Fraser Gehrig Posts

St Kilda 2004 Season Highlights DVD

The distance in time between the 1997 Grand Final and 2004 is the same as the time lapsed between 2010 and this year, so I guess there’s some synergy in putting this up now.

*Disclaimer – you can read me whinge about Sports Delivered and talk about these productions in more bleating depth here.

img_7299This production for this was spearheaded by Channel 9, who was one of the broadcasters at the time, complete with match-day intro sequence and Brownlow Medal round highlights graphics. Like anything Channel 9 does in a promotional vein, it glosses over a lot of the negatives of the 2004 season – some losses simply aren’t mentioned at all, and the bloketastic element is filled by the hosting of Michael Roberts, who is obviously a mate of the much-featured Grant Thomas – a huge bonus for GT fans, although he probably doesn’t steal the show in the same Ken Sheldon does in the 1991 and 1992 Season Highlights productions. He certainly does say some interesting things – his admission that he hadn’t prepared the team well enough for the Qualifying Final against Brisbane, and more bemusingly, that the team has structured itself differently in the Round 21 and Qualifying Final games at the same ground against the same opposition in case they met the Lions in the Grand Final.

Whilst a lot of the focus of what’s in there is the Wizard Cup final and then the 10-game winning streak to open the season, at a running time of more than 116 minutes this is about 75 minutes longer and 61 minutes longer than the 2009 and 2010 Season Highlights DVDs respectively, and around more than 116 minutes longer than the 2005 Season Highlights DVD, which would have been a genuine ride (again, for more of my dismay at the producers of Sports Delivered and the Visual Entertainment Group, see above).

It’s easy to forget just how good the G-Train was outside of simply kicking for goal, how impressively athletic Roo was, and just what we missed out on due to Aaron Hamill’s injuries not just in key parts of 2004 but in 2005, 2006, 2007 and perhaps beyond, not to mention Heath Black after his departure (see his stirring goal in the final seconds of the third quarter of the Preliminary Final), further injuries to Luke Penny and the inconsistency of Brent Guerra.

The 2004 season was truly a unique experience for St Kilda fans. Never before had the club looked to potent, and the youth brigade had us feeling that anything could happen, with no end in site. I remember thinking at the time as a 16 year old that I couldn’t imagine a point beyond this team – we were getting attached to the players that themselves were coming through together as a close-knit group. It’s incredible to think the journey we still find ourselves on could well and truly have been completed in this season. Either way, surely it was to be the beginning of an era that would change the club forever. It was, but not in the way we hoped.

How we didn’t necessarily want to be

Recently turning 25 came with it an expected yet still slightly painful quarter-life crisis.

From 24 to 25 feels like you’ve aged at least nine to 10 times that overnight and it requires an honest look at yourself in a glass coated with metal amalgam, or as many people refer to it; a mirror. You assess your finances, relationship status, career progression and then naturally of course you weigh up whether or not you will ever witness a St Kilda premiership. Now no longer at the tender age of 24, this plight had been turned up a proverbial notch almost instantaneously. Amongst brushing up my resume, Google searching “community work” and signing up to eHarmony, came the thought of what the last 25 years has been and meant on this earth, and a large a part of that has revolved around being a St Kilda supporter.

When you’re a kid and you attend Auskick – or, as my junior football club’s program was very controversially named, “Midgets” – you’re happy just running around in a team’s colours courtesy of Dad; for me a traditional long sleeve Saints guernsey with Aussie Jones’ number 5 on the back. You’d hear a result and maybe care about it for all of 15 seconds before you’re chasing a footy around again worrying about your own very important career. This was more often than not made up of deliberately tightening angles for goals to have a shot at momentary glory. When Tom and I were little, we couldn’t wait to play for St Kilda when we were older, it was going to be fantastic. It turned out for us that the selection process was sufficiently more stringent than we could have ever possibly anticipated; our playing careers teetered out (not without serious injuries) and our success as footballers would now have to be fulfilled vicariously through the St Kilda Football Club, the passion no longer exerted on the field would have to be inflicted from the stands. That transition from being a child and being given a St Kilda jumper, to it being 100% apart of me: well, this was now complete.

Too young to appreciate, but I still observed the trail of destruction left by 1997; I sat there and watched but couldn’t really understand Stewart Loewe’s goal kicking yips, Joel Smith’s broken leg, Peter Everitt’s collarbone. I then saw Tim Watson and Malcolm Blight come and go; I saw Max Hudghton cry, Caydn Beetham lose the passion, I witnessed Daniel Wulf run in and hit the post, I watched Steven Baker suffer “amnesia”, Justin Peckett getting run down from behind with Troy Longmuir the beneficiary, Justin Koschitzke get blindsided by Daniel Giansiracusa, a nastily snapped Matt Maguire leg; I listened to the media circles of Grant Thomas being too friendly with the players, I’d seen Ross Lyon stop the other teams from scoring, I’d seen Luke Ball walk; I’d seen a toe-poke and I’d seen the unexpected bounce of obscurely shaped ball on the biggest stage.

On the contrary I’d watched Jason Heatley kick a few bags, Aussie Jones tear down the wing, and Troy Schwarze bang home a winner against Brisbane. I’d watched Robert Harvey, Nathan Burke and Lenny Hayes; Barry Hall’s winner after the siren against Hawthorn, Fraser Gehrig’s 100th goal in a season, Clint Jones run down Buddy Franklin; I’d seen Michael Gardiner come from nowhere, Nick Riewoldt’s soccer goal in the 2009 preliminary final; I’d seen a 55-point comeback, a last-minute Montagna goal, and the highlight: sharing a few lanes of bowling with Andrew Thompson, Justin Koschitzke and Justin Peckett in Moorabbin (watching elite athletes plough through my bucket of hot chips was slightly disheartening on the eve of the season but it was still a highlight).

I had ridden the St. Kilda wave since 1997 and upon reflection in the metal amalgam-coated glass, I was spat out the back witnessing 0 premierships. Regardless, on the eve of entering my 18th season as a member, despite the amount of times we have uttered profanities under our breathe to ourselves and sometimes regrettably out loud in front of families and children, there is never any doubt we’ll be walking through the gates again, daring to dream of the very best outcomes; even possibly putting our heads on our pillows at night and hoping we are the Leicester City of the AFL. We’ve witnessed the “How I Want to Be” slogans, and whilst we didn’t necessarily choose our own destiny, the first quarter has been one hell of an opening.

Saints wear new clash jumper again; lose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember feeling OKish?

Round 5, 2015
St Kilda 2.6, 6.7, 10.10, 11.14 (80)
Essendon 3.2, 6.6, 9.11, 11.16 (82)
Crowd: 29,869 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, May 3rd at 3.20pm

It was the corresponding round last year in which we beat the Bombers on a Saturday to go three wins from five. My overriding thought that night was that maybe – just maybe – we’d escaped an extended bottoming out and could at least be competitive as we rebuilt.

Of course, that didn’t eventuate. We threw away that 4-2 start that beckoned against the winless Lions in New Zealand the following week, and it would be three months until our next (very unexpected and bizarre) win.

So perhaps it’s strange that I walk away from this one feeling better than last year, as Rich aptly noted on our way out of the stadium. Not just that it was a loss, but that a) it was against Essendon, and b) it was a close loss against Essendon. It would be too easy to throw in “c) Schneider”, but I’ll get to that later.

For some reason Hulk Hogan was at Seaford this week, and I dare say being in Melbourne proper to begin with was a stretch for context for him. The Saints have a number of celebrity fans including the other type of Hulk, Erica Bana (who happened to be at Seaford himself last week), the guy next to him at the 2010 Grand Final Draw, AKA Michael Klim, Molly Meldrum, Peter Hitchener, Sandy Roberts, Shane Warne (if ex-players of sorts count), and a host of other (Tracey Grimshaw was sporting a Saints beanie on A Current Affair last night also). Hulk (Hogan), however, belongs more to the once-off line of celebrity supporters, infamously and awkwardly boasting Elle MacPherson.

The Hulk (the, uh, real not real one) was at least vaguely more animated than the life-size cardboard cut-outs of Delaney, Steven et al in the bemusingly recurring “feature” Battle Talk on the club site. Battle Talk ok, but they’re rarely going to say anything different about whoever they’re playing that week, and by that I mean they’re rarely going to read anything different off the autocue about whoever they’re playing that week.

Following the last fortnight a number of people would have thought Essendon would cruise through this one based on St Kilda’s form alone. The fact that the Bombers had beaten Hawthorn but hadn’t really shown much otherwise might have led a few (myself included) to think they were due to right the ship, and given the attacking footy they’re capable who better to that against, and via a very, very big margin?

A last minute call-up to the Medallion Club with very old family friend Andrew, his partner Emily and Rich was an appropriate way for myself to mark the 10-year anniversary of my first venture into the overrated section (specifically in the way it’s run, the ticketing and it’s thirst for actually being the MCC). That night, the second Fridaynight  of the split Round 13, suitably saw a lowly Essendon pull out an arsey win against us to leave us outside the top eight at 6-7. It was also the catalyst for the dramatic turnaround that at least should have seen us playing in the Grand Final; interestingly the following week we played the Bulldogs – as we do this week – and that match was the start of the career-best form of Kosi.

To further mark some arbitrary Essendon-St Kilda dates, 20 years ago saw the Bombers smack us by 116 points and then 76 points in our two meetings that season, and of course this is the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Grand Final, in which the Bombers came from 4th place to to beat us in the Grand Final after we finished on top of the ladder, something we’d repeat the next time we finished above the rest in 1997.

The Medallion Club also happened to be the site that Rich and I spent arguably the two darkest days of last year in. Losses to West Coast in Round 14 on the Sunday and then Richmond the following Saturday afternoon weren’t the biggest we had, but came after respective 86, 70 and 96-point losses. Billings may have christened himself Mr. 100% against the Eagles, but this pair of games were probably when we felt the heavy weight of the past had taken us as low as it could. This was the new normal, the cavernous Corporate Stadium playing host to not much in front of not many. The fact the roof is closed messes with my melatonin levels and it’s hard to not be extra depressed about everything once you enter the stadium at 2.30pm and your day is essentially over.

I’m not going to get carried away and say “and then on Sunday we were there for the turnaround”, but I really do hope we can look back on this as one of the first times this group really showed that it had a future together. But let’s go easy. Like it does within matches, more obviously we’ll swing from side to side between weeks, and there will certainly be repeats this year of the aforementioned drubbings.

The intent was really good from the start, and that loose sense of rejuvenation following a dog’s balls fortnight was heightened by Tom Hickey and debutant D-Mac getting involved early.

Hickey provided one of the biggest structural takeaways of the day (/night), playing essentially the Nick Riewoldt roaming role across half forward as the tall target. Given his size and that he was coming back from injury I assumed he’d spend a lot more time closer to goal, but instead he was pushing up to the wing within minutes to provide the kind of option we’d so painfully lacked in the absence of My Favourite Hair in the AFL. He was far more mobile than I thought he’d be, and perhaps more so than the three goals he kicked in Round 2 last year against GW$ his performance gave us the best example yet of why we were so keen to get him.

In fact he played so (relatively) athletically and nearly completely as a forward it swiftly put to rest for the time being whether we could carry two ruckmen in the same side. Whilst Billy Longer had a decent impact across the ground against the Blues the previous week as the sole really big guy – so much so the club put him on media duty for the first time ever – he only gathered six possessions in this one as his focus was more so to get to the stoppages and get the hit-out. Hickey, on the flipside, recorded only six hit-outs.

Our Very Own Stephen Merchant could have held on to a few more marks – he only took four for the day but seemed more capable in the air as the game progressed – but not only did he provide a contest coming out of defence, his 19 possessions reflected how hard and effectively he worked down low once the ball came off hands (often his own).

Richo didn’t have Hickey a certainty to play this week given Roo is coming back in (as is Joey), which would be astounding but when My Second Favourite Hair in the AFL Josh Bruce is also the Second Leading Goalkicker in the Competition and clearly has a better output when a tall target is playing higher up then perhaps it’s Membrey who comes out this week. He wasn’t given the most enthusiastic response by Richo but it’s folly for anyone to think that coaches aren’t going to send messages to their own players when speaking publicly about them, and further folly to think they exactly what that means. Given Hickey’s own game and the structure he allowed for Bruce to take advantage of, Membrey would seem to be most likely. Hickey is also ready for game time and getting some momentum into his career, whilst Membrey is still 20 and has played a grand total of six games – and five of those were in the last five weeks. He’s probably due for a spell with the Zebras just to get his head around a few things.

D-Mac looked very comfortable for a debutant, and probably started stronger than he finished. He registered a couple of smothers and was backing himself to go up in a few marking contests. He’s only 183cm but deceptively quick for his frame, which combined with his not-quite-on-trend hair and slightly slouch makes him look more like your St. Paul’s reserves forward lumbering around the 7-11 end of McKinnon Oval. With Joey returning you’d expect it’s him or perhaps Sinclair of the lighter brigade to come out, but given D-Mac showed more than enough intent and Sinclair might be experiencing a little wear (like Membrey), the latter might be due for a spell in the Peter Jackson.

The first quarter was defined by two things – Jack Lonie and inaccuracy, and unfortunately they’d be intertwined to Schneideresque proportions by game’s end. Whatever Schneider’s been doing in his mentoring role has worked almost too well, because he’s been able to convey just about everything of his game over to Lonie. I don’t know about you but I reckon Lonie plays his position just about more effectively than anyone else in our side at the moment. He set up Bruce with a great push and turn followed by a pinpoint left-foot pass to the top of the square, but then ended a chain of three gettable shots at goal from Roberton, Billings and himself with a wayward snap, leaving us at 1.5 to 1.0. That Essendon goal, by the way, echoed the worst of our leaky pressure from the previous two matches, and foreshadowed the two vital goals the Bombers would score in the final quarter.

Lonie, like he had in previous weeks, had a very strong reaction to missing the kind of shot at goal made for players like him but didn’t drop his head. In fact he probably held it too high if anything because he pushed right up the ground soon after and on the spread took on Fletcher and was completely monstered by him. Another behind soon after undid Jack Steven’s hard running and Dare Iced Coffee higher up. It was tempered by another left footer, Jimmy Webster, showing off his silky field kicking skills and hitting Dunstan in space close to goal after Dunstan was at risk of being ignored completely despite having the proverbial around him just 30 out from goal.

So some frustrations, but overall the effort, intent, whatever was all there. Of course, in the last two matches we’d kicked 6.3 in the first and led by 26 points during the second respectively, and gone on to lose by a combined 114 points. This week seemed a lot more cohesive though, and it proved to be such.

When I’d hit the top of the Bourke Street stairs (ok I took the escalator) just under an hour out from the game there was an actual crowd on the footbridge and I was genuinely taken aback. We’ve become accustomed to some woeful crowd numbers over the last couple of years, and whilst a lot of those there were Essendon fans (likewise most of the anticipation belonged to them), it was still strange for there to be some interest in a game involving ourselves. That said, the final crowd didn’t even hit 30,000 so the fact it felt that “full” probably shows just our far we’ve fallen. But don’t worry, now we’ve also got that MAKE SOME NOISE thing which is essentially a weird, ill-toned noise and big-screen graphic that comes on slightly too long after a goal and breaks up the organic anticipation of the resulting centre bounce (particularly when there’s some momentum our way). But for fuck’s sake why would we be at the footy then. A goal apparently doesn’t get us excited enough anymore. My suggestion is don’t feed it but perhaps people are getting more stupid and important people will tell us that they’ll have to find a way to make SOME MORE NOISE and en masse we won’t notice.

Very rarely do I have to deal with the Medallion Club amenities and shithead staff (that neutrally dark suit jacket will never be the MCC red, white and blue stripe standard, I’m sorry) but any danger of having more than one bar? Having queues out into the walkway as the next quarter is beginning is a mess. Fortunately, not that many more people would turn up in the section even to a sold out (“sold out”) game at that Concrete Dome so I guess it only gets so bad there.

It became apparent in the second quarter that Billings had stepped up after humming along through the first few games. He presented as a lead up forward and finished some good work from Schneider again, but I really do think his highlight was when Sean Marchetti interviewed him for the ground’s own coverage (which I’d never seen before and I don’t like the idea on networks to begin with). Billings seemed kind of frazzled by the situation himself but still interviews like a kid anyway (he still is one really), and Marchetti took the mic away from Jack’s mouth before he’d finished the answer. The finisher was the “what do we need to do in the second half” segue into everyone’s half-time, and Jack mentioned nothing more specific than maintaining effort “and we’ll see how that goes”. Uh, yeah. Terrible hair too, still. But he’s starting to show his class with the ball and off the ball he uses his body more smartly. What he could be after couple more pre-seasons is looking more and more befitting such a high pick.

The second quarter also saw a disparity between two guys at either end of the ground and at either end of their careers. For the first time, Sam Fisher is beginning to look slow. He still finished with 20 touches, a few marks and a few tackles, but there were some contests where in an attempt to apply physical pressure to a contest he looked like Josh Bruce pre-huge grab against GWS. Just vaguely there because a human body was required by laws of the game to be roughly in the vicinity. Not sure what I’m meant to be expecting from someone at that age and I’d certainly have him in the side, and ultimately there was a tinge of sadness to know that whilst he’ll still be making a decent contribution his floor might be getting a little lower a we might be seeing it more often.

And incidentally, that other player is Josh Bruce. I can’t tell you how  excited I am that someone with that hair plays for St Kilda AND is kicking a whole bunch of goals even though they look like they should be filling in for whoever’s playing against Rich and I at FutsalOz in Brunswick on a Monday night. In that sense, as a I mentioned a few weeks ago, there’s a lot of Fraser Gehrig about him. Nonchalant, very inward celebrations and a somewhat lackadaisical left-foot action and overall physical presence. With Hickey in the side Bruce was good enough to find space and then take some tough marks when required, and G-Train comparison for me was complete when he far-too-calmly wheeled around onto the left in the last quarter and off a step or two put us in front from 40 metres out on an angle.

But for the second week in a row we’d let a lead of at least 20 points slip away. Let’s cut the crap and go to Schneider. You could say this was his Daniel Wulf moment from Round 5, 2002 in the sense that he hit the post late in the game and messed up a chance to put us in front late in a match, in an era in which we’re following a bunch of kids that you simply can’t rely on to definitely do what’s required in a tight finish. Not necessarily because they’re rubbish, but because they’re kids. The pressure got to Lonie as well who appropriately sprayed a shot late as well, but he’s an 18 year-old playing his fifth game, and even then already looks to have a big future.

The problem with this one – aside from running into goal and hitting the post when you could have either kicked past the man with space to your right or just handballed to your left to Tim Membrey who’s by himself and even closer to goal – is that Schneider is specifically in the team for those moments. To guide things home cooly and calmly. Indeed, the set shot just a couple of minutes earlier with no angle could be argued to be an easier shot. You could say Lonie’s handball to him for the second kick was too heavy and he had to spend too much time getting control of the footy, but he’s an AFL footballer and that’s where it ends. A 10-point lead with a few minutes left? Nah, the ball goes straight up the other end, Travis Colyer burns everyone off from the halfway up the ground and still has the composure and class to finish from 50 metres out. A 5-point lead with two minutes left? Etc.

Sadly, like Daniel Wulf, Schneider may well be remembered for both of these moments above anything else. Added to his 2009 Grand Final performance, all of a sudden he’s a got the air of a serial offender. As much as he’s done for this team, and by all accounts continues to do off the field with the younger guys, I can certainly say the 2009 Grand Final is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of him. But this isn’t his generation, and it clearly wasn’t his day in a lot of respects. GT’s orders on that fateful Saturday night were to win at all costs following a 122-point loss at the Cattery, but obviously the über flood we served up against the Swans had nothing to do with the barnstorming style led by the G-Train, Roo, Milne, Hamill and co of 24 months later. On Sunday this team’s performance was owned by Bruce, Billings, Lonie, Steven, Armitage, Hickey et al. All these guys showed genuine promise playing their natural game and ideally will be there for the next tilt.

A narrow loss to the Bombers is one of my more intense fears as a St Kilda supporter, but I left the ground experiencing the now-foreign feeling of positivity. This is a young side and we’re going to have to some pretty off days between now and whenever it may be that we’re a threat again. But for the first time in a very long time, I can’t wait to go to the footy this week and watch the Saints.

For the good times, and maybe that’s all

Round 18, 2012
St Kilda 4.5,  7.10,  12.17,  16.22 (118)
Western Bulldogs 3.3,  4.4,  4.5,  6.6 (42)
Crowd: 23,498 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, July 29th at 3.15pm

There was a resigned feeling on the Number 8 tram into the city yesterday.

After results well and truly went the wrong way last weekend – and continued to do so as Freo dismantled Port as we made our way to the Concrete Dome – this game felt as if it had the air of a dead rubber.

Perhaps we’re still coming down after the fanfare of games at this time of season in 2009 and 2010, and even last year there was a late charge at the right time. That feeling was compounded by this being BJ’s 200th and the subsequent endless replaying of his heroics in the 2010 Grand Final. That time of dreaming has come and gone. I know they’re pivotal moments in his career, but they’re also pivotal moments in the collective depression of this club and its supporters.

Whilst I was already cracking the Ahmed Saads about things on the tram, on the Frankston line the G-Train was on the “Saints Train” for some reason. Not sure exactly what the deal was there, but anyone catching that would have turned up to the Concrete Dome about an hour before the game started. I know there were some kiddie activities going on but I don’t think it was the kind of thing a lot of parents would have typically planned for a cold, wet Sunday afternoon.

It was something I had planned, though (turning up early, not catching the train with Fraser and taking part in the handball competition). I got to the Locker Room to meet up with friend Sean (son of ex-Bulldogs President Peter Gordon) for a drink to discuss our respective clubs, footy in general and quote The Simpsons too much.

Over Sean’s bourbon and coke and my red wine conversation turned to the Richmond and Carlton match the previous night. We felt frustrated towards the players and quite sympathetic for their fans. As Sean prudently pointed out, “They’re like us, but with a successful history”. Indeed; at least their players have had a legacy of numerous premierships and fearsome reputation to trash over the past three decades. For all the great footy put together in the past few years we’re still the clubs with solitary premierships.

Sean’s mum Kerrie joined us briefly before it was time to face the footy. I know the family through Sean’s younger brother Daniel via musical interests, but have forged a relationship of sorts with his family through mutual devotions to depressing football clubs. Kerrie has been at the coalface of the Dogs’ plight over the years more than many of us can claim to have been at our own. She wrote the great Too Tough to Die: Footscray’s Fightback 1989 and her writing has been featured on the Footy Almanac in recent times too. We talked about the afternoon ahead; we agreed it was hard for anyone to get excited.

Usually the red wine is there to ease things up for me as I get anxious as the first bounce nears, but as I expected the footy itself was the just as good a sedative. It was just my brother and I in our Aisle 29 squad and we spent much of the afternoon having a relaxed chat about the game, the crowd and the De La Salle Thirds. It worked out well; after a big night out I think he needed the rest.

The Bulldogs stayed more than in touch for most of the first quarter and through the second term too, but the Saints just kept the scoreboard (namely the behinds column, of course) ticking over and soon enough we all realised this game was heading in one direction.

St Kilda’s midfield got on top, which seemed inevitable given the gulf in overall class. BJ, Joey, Lenny and Dal were sensational all game and continued the trend of big team performances for players’ milestone games in 2012.

BJ set the tone on his big day with a bullish effort through the middle to force the ball to Saad, who found My Favourite Hair in the AFL on the run and he saluted with the first goal of the match. Roo was on fire early, running into space and burning off Lake, which yielded him his shot for a second. A Jason Gram Special denied him a shot for number three, but cool, calm teamwork from Dempster and Gilbert saw a perfect pass from the former hit Roo up and the captain go back and kick his third.

That the midfield wrested control was a relief as Big Will Minson and Big Ben were reprising last week’s roles early on in ominous signs for the Saints. After monstering first-gamer Levi Casboult the week before, Big Will won the first clearance and beat Ben in a one-on-one marking contest soon after. Ben eventually won a clean tap out only for Will again to win the clearance and hit Tutt on the chest who went back and put the Bulldogs in front deep into the opening term.

Roo’s goals had dried up and it seemed his space did, too. Schneider, Dal and Lenny were the ones to kick the majors between then and half-time as Roo, Wilkes and The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind continually got in each other’s way up forward. The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind may well be the The Last Man to Captain the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind if he’s not careful because one day he’s going to wipe out not just his opponents but the club and everyone in the stadium crashing into a pack.

There’s simply not the same synergy in the side as when the three tall forwards comprise of Roo, Kosi and Big Rhys. Swat said about the injured Rhys post-match that “structurally, he’s almost our most important player”, echoing Michael Gleeson’s article in The Age several weeks ago. Swat’s comments showed just how important Rhys is viewed as internally. He’s able to provide a more mobile option in more areas in the front half of the ground than Wilkes, and finds and takes control of his own space. Wilkes found himself fighting with Roo particularly and opponents for the same ball in contests all around the ground and when he was one-out he simply wasn’t holding his marks. On the few occasions he did he ended up spraying shots at goal, and finished the game with 0.3. Despite his shortcomings he really does work hard to get to where he does and he was given the unenviable task of playing as an undersized ruckman.

Wilkes had come in for My Favourite Player Siposs as Swat’s obligatory late inclusion. I was disappointed as I was keen for a week of MAXIMUM SIPOSS after he was subbed out against the Swans but yesterday I had to settle for the absolute minimum. I dare say there’s a very good chance we’ll see him next week though.

I’m not sure just how premeditated that late change was but either way it saw Dunell giving a return of three from three in the green vest. He didn’t touch it too much when he came on last week but when he did it was quality every time, and he really built on that and was impressive yesterday. In just a quarter and a bit of footy he had thirteen touches and a hand in several scores. His run along the wing set up Kosi’s (missed) set shot on the three-quarter time siren; some good, quick work low by hand set up Lenny for his second goal and he weaved his way through Bulldogs on the wing later to find Kosi with a long pass in space who gifted the Tip Rat his first.

Should Schneider miss with injury next week then quite conceivably we’ll see Dunell and Siposs in the side together with perhaps Wilkes to come out. Wilkes might stay in, however, as Swat said he was using Wilkes as the second ruck to give Kosi every chance to use up his energy on playing his heavy-hitting forward role; it worked to an extent, with Kosi hitting the packs and kicking two as well as gifting that one to Milne. Rhys is still a couple of weeks away and I’m more than happy to keep him cotton wool for as long as necessary because he’s clearly too important to risk becoming a walking hamstring tear throughout his career.

It’s a good thing we were playing the Bulldogs yesterday because there’s every chance we’d be sitting lamenting game #6 in which inaccurate kicking cost us four points. Strangely, the final score that St Kilda kicked (16.22) was 10.16 better than the Dogs’ (6.6), which was the same score the Saints blundered their way to against the Swans the previous Sunday. Raising the “Who Cares?” stakes, the half-time scoreline of 7.10 to 4.4 was similar to that of the game against the Dogs in Round 6, 2009, which was 7.14 to 4.5. We know how that season ended and it seems the inaccuracy bug – back with a frustrating vengeance in 2012 – isn’t leaving any time soon.

After five great goals a week earlier Milne kicked 1.3 and was blanketed by the great Bob Murphy, who is one of my favourite opposition players by a long way (almost on his weekly column in The Age alone). Two of the Tip Rat’s behinds were low percentage shots that ranked right up there even in his history of ridiculous opportunism, although partially in his defence only the post and defender’s face on the goal line respectively were ultimately in the way.

There was also the aforementioned Wilkes sitter (not quite topping Kosi’s against Richmond, but coming close), Roo returned to type in the third term with three sprays and Saad waltzed in to an open behind not once but twice at the Coleman end.

But it seemed the kind of game where you could get away with that kind of thing and no one would have been bothered too much. I think everyone had stopped caring by the second quarter when no one decided to follow up Kosi’s tap back in from the boundary line except Dal who finished handsomely from the 50-metre arc, and the umpires joined the rubbish party when Dempster was paid a questionable free against in the Dogs’ goal square. This was followed by a Bulldogs kick on their half-back flank that genuinely seemed aimed at the standing room behind level one.

Even when the Dogs found themselves in control of things they looked nowhere near it. The extended period in the second term in which the ball was camped in their forward line saw Williams kick two out on the full from nearly identical set shots and Luke Dahlhaus’s best effort was batted away on the goal line.

Unbelievably, things spiralled further out of relevance in third term. Milne blazed away with freak knows what as the target, Kosi kicked the turf instead of the ball and Big Will Minson did his best to miss both ball and turf with a mid-air hack. Finally, a Bulldogs defender kicked it straight into Roo, who put the blinkers on, kicked a totally rubbish snap and then immediately bolted off the ground. Even he’d had enough.

“He’s a bit hungry today, Rooey”, said my brother. Indeed he was. Maybe he’d put a cheeky tenner on himself for the Coleman, and I was more than happy for him to kick a bag and get his confidence back up after struggling against the Swans. He would have truly got some with his fourth-quarter set shot, which gave him a nice return of four goals to go with 20 touches and 14 marks.

Amidst the long lull it was only when his shirt got ripped off that the crowd really got up and about. Dal Santo’s great goals, Lenny’s own trifecta (an equal career-best) and BJ’s big performance in his 200th didn’t get the few who bothered turning up so excited as when he was charging across the field topless for a replacement #12. Perhaps after that reaction he might be feeling a little better about those photos being seen by so many now.

The man responsible for those photos played one of his better games of the season. Gilbert was clean with his disposal and ran hard off the backline. It was as much as could do because serious Bulldogs attacks were few and far between. There were plenty of harmless Sherrins coming in that he, Fisher (nine marks), Gwilt, Dempster and Simpkin (seven each) mopped up quite easily.  The hurried kicks forward also meant that Gram was ready to run into space and help out on the way back.

Head was great yet again and is becoming a solid favourite of mine (and I’m sure many others). His spoil going back with the ball from the game’s opening clearance showed just how ready to go he always is and his disposal wasn’t perfect yesterday but continues to improve overall.

Geary was the other down back that really stood out. He had 11 scoring involvements (although you can read into that what you will) out of his 21 disposals. Like Simpkin, he contests fiercely and yesterday finished with eight contested possessions and six tackles. He needed a breakout year and he’s done very well.

Of course, it all started with the chief ball winners. The stats sheet summed it up pretty neatly: BJ with 33 disposals, Montagna with 32, Lenny with 28 and the three goals, and Dal with 28 and two goals. BJ had gone head-to-head with Boyd who finished with 27 himself and Griffen still found the ball 23 times despite CJ’s attention, but with Cross out of the game it meant Wallis and Liberatore had a lot to deal with. Both will be great players for their fathers’ club but they’re still very raw for now. The likes of Swan, Beams, Pendlebury, et. al. will be a much sterner test on Saturday night, and those senior players will need to be firing and getting all the help from Armo and Jack Steven they can.

Those two were not quite at their best last night but both were still quite good. For both it’s their first full season playing midfield consistently and perhaps they’re starting to wear out a little, but this team really does need them to stand up for the remainder of the season.

Ben (my pick for 2017 premiership captain) would eventually come close to breaking even in the hit outs with Big Will (27-31) and would have a decent presence around the ground, finishing with eight marks and effecting more aerial contests.

We could all enjoy BJ being chaired off the ground but after what’s happened this year this milestone game really felt like a celebration of what has been more than what could be. Next week won’t be so easy; a loss to Collingwood is likely and the Saints – even if they do turn it on like they have a few times this year and cause an upset – will have to be relying on other teams to fall over. The Saints have had enough trouble holding up their own end this season.

Afterwards it was to the upper levels of the Carlton Club to complete the Gordon double – the going away drinks of my friend Daniel (Sean’s younger brother), who is going to Berlin for a couple of months. Some more red wine there eased things yet again, but I had the feeling that come September we’ll all be holidaying too.