Lenny Hayes Posts

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.

Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer

Aaand here we go.

Spencer White will make his debut. A guy most people thought was a myth will hog most of the pre-match spotlight, rather than a legend who is playing his final game in the club’s home state.

It wasn’t the case until yesterday’s naming of the final team. Until, the week (from a St Kilda perspective, remember) had been all about Jason Holmes starring in the club’s entry into this year’s Virgin Australia Film Contest, which seems to be some vague annual competition open to about four AFL teams.

The most striking thing about this year was that it was a dramatic shift in tone to last year’s, which was so ridiculous it had claimed the St Kilda careers of Scott Watters, Jordan Staley, Jay Lever, Ahmed Saad, Ben McEvoy and Jackson Ferguson within weeks.

It was full of bad acting, but they weren’t given much choice with the script. This year, Jason Holmes somehow demonstrates that it’s possible for an AFL footballer to put in a convincing performance in the voiceover booth, as well as on camera. As melodramatic as it is, I actually like the last blurred shot of him in the background walking out onto Corporate Stadium in a St Kilda uniform – something we actually haven’t seen before.

Likewise Spencer White. For all the hype Saints fans have built up around him – and even members of the wider footy public – the only highlights and imagery we have of him so far are in the black and gold stripes and blue collar and cuffs of Sandringham (and occasionally the sky-bordering-on-highlighter blue clash, or the unnecessarily mostly-white clash).

What are we expecting from Spencer this Sunday? Last week aside, we’ve recently gone in with the attack set-up of the My Favourite-Bandwagon Alliance complimented by Josh Bruce hanging around doing stuff. Spencer in his first game probably won’t have the physical presence Bruce would and you’d expect his natural game ideally to be somewhere between Roo’s and and Rhys’s games – quicker than Roo and can play deep, press up or run back into open space. Dare I say it…like Buddy? I think the problem with that comparison is more to do with people’s reaction to it – they think he’s actually going to be as good as Buddy. Rather, it’s more his style is like Franklin’s, although at pick 25 and with some of the bits and pieces we’ve seen we realise he could be anything (for better or worse). Also, he’s 19 FFS.

The knock’s been on his defensive work so as anyone from the club who’s commented on him this week has said, Sunday will be all about providing a contest, whether it be at the ball or off the ball. Simple, I guess.

Unfortunately Shane Savage fractured his arm in TWO places at TRAINING on Friday. Fark knows how that happens, but it means Brodie Murdoch comes in. Fine by me in the sense that it’s a great chance for Brodie (who kicked his goal with a banana set-shot kick at the MCG against Richmond in a 4.40pm Sunday game last year), but geez that’s tough for Sav. Over the past eight games he’s almost been in our best in seven of those, and regardless of Friday’s mishap all of a sudden we feel like we have a long-term option off half-back.

Also into the side, perhaps bemusingly, is CJ. In a week in which Richo talked about really changing up the list after the season, surely a 30 year-old who has trouble kicking an Australian Rules football is being brought in for his last chance?

Jimmy Gwilt wasn’t so fortunate. If you’re in his position and you’re getting dropped for Round 22 when your side is on the bottom of the ladder, I think it says a lot about the club’s plans for him. I think we’ve all got a soft spot for Jimmy too – he was one of the few guys to really step up in 2010 and improve on the previous year when for so many that season seemed to be simply about doing just enough.

And uh, yeah, let’s not forget the opposition, considering that’s who we’re playing against and so on. The Tigers are roaring (and so on) and fark, they may well be in the eight by the end of the round. Dusty’s out with a hamstring though, and whilst that’s a huge blow overall I don’t think it will make or break them this Sunday night. They’re looking every bit of the team that was finished just outside the four last season, and rather strangely, if they do sneak in and lose the first week then they’ll have finished exactly where they did last year.

Look, unless the entire Richmond team broke out in awful acne and were put on Minocycline and they all came down with unpredictable but violent diarrhea (just a hypothetical scenario I thought up), no selection decisions are really going to influence this one. Barring a Bizarro game echoing the Freo day out (yes, that actually happened), you’d expect Cotchin to have another day out against the Saints and Deledio and Ellis to use a lot of footy to good effect. Look out for Jack Riewoldt trying to get St Kilda back to personal bunny status too.

Ultimately, for St Kilda fans this match will be about a chance to see one of the greatest Saints in person for the final time. The hype around Spencer from some may suggest we may also be witnessing the dawn of a juggernaut, but we won’t know that for a long time. What we do know is this is the last time we go to the ground to see Lenny play, so soak that up if nothing else.

Well, that was weird

Round 18, 2014
St Kilda 4.3, 9.6, 15.14, 17.16 (118)
Fremantle 1.1, 3.2, 5.6, 9.6 (60)
Crowd: 16,594 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, 18th July at 4.40pm

We’d reached a point last week where you we genuinely looked like we wouldn’t win another game this year. And that was after 11 consecutive losses, with the general consensus being that next year will be just as difficult. We were at the point where you’re so far into the dark times you can neither look forward and will yourself towards the light, nor look back to the light coming from the good times in your past.

I was resigned to exhausting myself again by writing another draining review, in which we get completely broken down – by at least one of the opposition or ourselves – and talk about how the future is still essentially an ominous question mark. But instead I’ve been sitting here trying to soak in as much post-match coverage, replays, interviews and ill-advised forum posts as I can. Because St Kilda tore apart premiership fancy Fremantle by 58 points, and in the process became one of only two teams to have beaten a side 16 places above them on the ladder. The last time we were on the bottom of the ladder and beat the team in 2nd spot was in 1985 against the Bulldogs, and there were only 12 teams in the competition then.

Obviously the incredible thing about this win is…well, yes, it was incredible that St Kilda won in the first place, but the way they completely blanketed the Dockers and scored heavily themselves (reaching over 100 for the first time this year) was simply unbelievable, and more to the point, bemusing. This review isn’t going to take you through the epic ebbs and flows of the drama that was St Kilda’s first win in three months (to the day). I thought that if/when it ever came, it would be against the odds and take everything to barely get over the line. But this one just took off and get going. Stuff just kept happening.

Corporate Stadium can be  a putrid game to watch the footy, and this was the least popular match in a round in which the fixturing had already pleased no one. One of only two games or not, the 4.40pm time slot is arguably more of a black hole than any other – lost between Saturday afternoon and Saturday night, when people are in transition, heading out, eating dinner, or taking a disco nap. On top of this particular Saturday being particularly bleak, having the Concrete Monolith roof closed anywhere near daylight hours – or ever, really – makes for a woefully sterile atmosphere in low drawing games. There’s no charm aesthetically to the place; there’s no history behind it. It’s just a lot of overpriced, grey seats and the Medallion Club, which thinks it’s the MCC and whose staff try to match their counterparts for tightarsery. The Perth Stadium plans this week revealed intentions for a 60,000-seater, with the potential to expand that to 80,000. That is what Etihad Stadium well and truly should have been in the first place. Too small for anyone to be enthusiastic about it for bigger or finals matches; too small to be an inclusive stadium in which it’s easy to get a decent seat for those bigger games. That’s before we get to the stadium deals forced upon the clubs. And that’s the only option the AFL gave us as a stage for this game in Melbourne away from the MCG, to be shared by 10 Victorian clubs.

Easier to say all this when just about every home game you go to now as a Saints supporter is mostly empty. When it’s going off it can be a cauldron, but this is St Kilda in a post-2009/10 Grand Finals world. Aside from myself, Freo supporters on the route 55 tram into the ground outnumbered St Kilda supporters 1-0. I’ve said before that obviously Brunswick West and Royal Park aren’t St Kilda heartland, but you realise there are problems when the Dockers more of a presence there (or anywhere here, really). There was more purple around Spencer Street and Bourke Street too in the lead up to the game, and I was starting to really get worried. Perhaps that 2001 record for our lowest home crowd there was really under threat. Having somehow cleared that against the Gold Coast, with the expected result against a state’s second side and in the dud time slot I thought the next challenge to that would be the Dockers. (Fun fact: Fremantle logos registered with IP Australia during the formation of the club include Fremantle Dolphins, Fremantle Courage (?) and Fremantle Hammer (??))

The wonderful goodwill generated by Lenny’s retirement I thought might have dragged a few more of our 30,000 members to the game, but it seems like it took dodgy ground management to save us from our own worst turnout, declaring a dubious total of 16,594. The Lenny wave instead rocketed the team itself to ridiculous heights that no one saw coming, and gave us a timely reminder of what it feels like to have anticipation and momentum throughout a game of footy.

Because unlike the last time we won, which was literally billions of years ago, this match didn’t need be rescued before we could even think about taking home the four points. In fact, when was the last time a game wasn’t in a perilous position early? How familiar the feeling of the game being over so soon has become, with for so many weeks the quarter time siren as good as the final siren.

The sign of intent that the side was switched on from the start was embodied in Dempster dropping back into the oncoming Pavlich tractor and getting knocked out. He was out before he hit the ground, and for those of us who didn’t get a clear view of the actual contact (I certainly didn’t and it happened near where I was sitting, so I assume that goes for just about everyone) it was a nervous few moments as he remained without movement. As it was mentioned post-match, his effort was spoken about in the quarter time huddle as an example of the what was expected and required of the players if they wanted to continue on with the work.

Whilst Dempster was down, the play had gone on and My Favourite Hair in the AFL had taken a mark before things were halted. It took more than five minutes for Dempster to be looked at properly and taken from the field but everyone managed to remember what had happened and Roo resumed his place and kicked the goal.

Good start, aside from the fact we’d lost one of the cornerstones of the defence (regardless of what you think of that fact). And I mean “good start” in the sense that we’d kicked the first goal. Cool. We did that against the Cats, remember.

The crowd got a sniff of the intent of side over the next few minutes, with the side in turn getting a sniff that Freo might have been a little complacent. Lenny’s tackles in defence brought the crowd into it, and then Billings hunted down Sutcliffe on half-forward in front of the members but Leigh Fisher was giving his old side donuts and didn’t pay anything. Armo earned a free kick with his own tackle soon after, and his give off saw Newnes bullet a pass to Murdoch on the 50-metre arc.

Murdoch kicked the goal with a really nice long shot. I like him playing in the front half because he’s got a solid body and a good set of hands, and he has a huge kick on him. Those qualities mean he’s more dangerous as a scoring threat across more of the attacking area, with I think three of his four shots from long range. He finished with 1.3 but together with 11 touches and six marks the numbers aren’t bad for a kid playing his 13th game. If he can hit the scoreboard that often it would go a huge way to fleshing out the versatility in his game. (I just hope this isn’t another kid who’s constantly gonna tighten up in front of goal.)

Dunstan was next, again rewarded for a good tackle and again kicking the goal from a decent range. He actually kicked both of his goals from a good distance, one set shot and one on the run at the peak of the third quarter onslaught. I don’t think we think of him of him as the guy who’s going to kick long, but rather the inside mid who might kick 40 at best on the rare occasion they’re called on to get some decent distance. Probably his only real knock at draft time was his kicking, so the way he scored the two goals were a pleasant surprise. He finished with 26 touches, too, following a period in which his output had dipped a little (he hadn’t had 20+ touches since the Port game in Round 12). It was a timely reminder of what he’s already capable of.

In fact, Richo’s on his bandwagon too (who isn’t?), having to stop himself from saying outright this morning on SEN that Luke would be captain of the club at some point in the future. Jack Newnes didn’t do any harm to his own prospects of being 2018-2022 Premiership Captain, with 25 touches off half-back and across the wing and eight tackles, but Richo obviously has his money on Dunstan being the man. I’d still be keen on the co-captaincy and for the next potentially successful era to forever come under the banner of the “Newnes-Dunstan Era”. So I think the wider consensus is we’ve got Dunstan, then Newnes, with Armitage not far behind. Geary is the smokey, unless he ends up at the Cats. I never, ever, ever thought I would say that sentence.

Speaking of bandwagons, how about the BIG RHYS BANDWAGON? A few weeks ago it had broken down and some were questioning why the trade-in to Port wasn’t taken up at the end of last year. If anything it’s broken down now because it’s under the weight of all 16,000 at the ground and anyone watching at home trying to grab a seat. I’ve unashamedly been on his bandwagon since I watched him win the 2009 Grand Final Sprint, although I can at least say that, like many Saints supporters and unlike just about everyone outside of the club, I actually followed him closely instead of just reading up on that solitary dot point on his CV.

So it was brilliant to see him kicking his goals from his shots, but more importantly knowing exactly where to work to across half-forward. It’s clearly, clearly the best way use him, allowing him to use his pace and reach to run off his opponent get a set of clear hands to the footy. As I said with Murdoch – but it’s much more important to the side in Rhys’s case – his ability to find that space and mark across half-forward and kick well over 50 metres (and accurately, as he did on Saturday) means he’s a scoreboard threat in more parts of the forward line.

And again, as it proved a fortnight ago against Carlton, when Roo was freed to move higher up the ground it meant the side had arguably their best field kicker distributing the ball and allowed Rhys to take responsibility in being the focal point, as well as other players being able to move into dangerous positions, rather than being terrified of treading into the path of My Favourite Hair. The best example of this came shortly after quarter time, when Roo led wide outside of the arc and took the mark. He waited patiently for an option to open up, and I dare say if it was someone else with the footy they would have quickly tried plonking it on top of his sensational hair with two other guys next to him. But Roo waited, and if you watch the replay you’ll see Rhys standing just off his man and subtly pointing to the small space he’s about to run to. Just as Sir Robert and Lenny had done so many times for him, Roo placed a short pass perfectly into Rhys’s path and Rhys finished it off nicely.

It was brilliant to see the Favourite Hair-Bandwagon set up finally working in a meaningful way. Oh yeah, and Roo had 30 touches and kicked four goals. Cheers.

I’m not ready to call it that Rhys has “arrived”, but 14 marks, 19 touches and three goals (all in the first half) was a great return. His third goal, from the fifty metre penalty in the shadow of half-time to put us up by 40 points was a rocket and well and truly stamped his impact on the game when it was there to be taken by the proverbial.

It was also that goal that sealed the surrealism of the situation. For the first half, anyway – by that time I was absolutely shitting myself because the crowd was so up and about and the margin big enough for people to be feeling great about things, but still not enough that Freo couldn’t reign it in in the second half. One of the tough things about the plummet to the bottom of the ladder is knowing that just about no lead is safe.

I’d been sitting in my seats in Aisle 33 on my own for the first half, sharing observations and cynical feelings about St Kilda’s prospects for the rest of the game with the woman a couple of seats down from my brother’s and mine. “They must be letting us win,” she said wryly, between our glances of “How is this happening?”. Something had to be up. We were leading by 40 points at half-time, and the idea that Ross had told them to sit back a little seemed more likely than us genuinely outplaying and out-willing a Fremantle side looking to win their ninth in a row and shore up a place in the top two.

I joined Rich for a beer at the Locker Room at half-time, which turned into out vantage point for the third quarter onslaught. And that was our onslaught, by the way – not the expected Fremantle comeback. I hadn’t been that nervous at a game as I was at half-time for a long, long while. I needed that (next) drink desperately (I’d already had one or two at my seats but, you know, I needed heaps more). Was this going to be this generation’s Round 9, 2000 loss to the Bulldogs, when the winless side gave up a 31-point lead at the final change and left Max Hudghton in tears? I remember as an almost-12-year-old watching on TV with my Dad and brother, and going to bed just before quarter time because I was too nervous, only to wake up the next day, go outside and fetch The Age, and see in disbelief (and then through my own tears) the brief on the front page bearing the crushing news. Or perhaps its Round 5, 2002 match against the Swans? I still remember Dee Dee (Dunleavy, as in Grubby & Dee Dee), who we sat behind in the members on Level 2 for several years, saying at three-quarter time to her family, “I’d hate to think what would happen if we lost”. We watched as the young side faltered and relinquished the lead late, only to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory. Those games were part of a lowly era in which we couldn’t be sure that the players would see out any lead, nor keep calm when challenged and guide things home safely.

And so it was that I expected a nerve wracking second half. Even if we held on, surely it would be just that, and if not, well…

But Armo quickly snapped a goal from an angle close to where he kicked his third term goal against the Demons in the opening round. Out to 46 points. Surely not? Pav with the quick reply brought things back to earth at least a little, before Jack Billings fumbled in the pocket but his quick thinking saw the ball end up with Roo in the goal square for another.

That Pav goal was the last of us staying tethered to our status as wooden spoon heirs for the afternoon. What happened through the remainder of the term will almost certainly remain the highlight of a lean season; ideally one we can look back on, however, and say that it went a long way to making this club a power again. For now, that’s a long way off.

We saw the absolute best of this season compacted into this quarter. Throughout this game, too, but this is where it took off. Indeed, we can almost boast the embarrassing riches of being able to say “we should have won by more” with a tinge of lament in our tone; 6.8 for the quarter with many of those shots very gettable.

It was interesting that a few guys (namely Lenny, Richo and Armo on The Sunday Footy Show) mentioned that the previous week had seen a few decent signs. Look, if I’m honest, wouldn’t have thought so. You wouldn’t to with a quick look at the score – had Armo missed that shot at goal with 90 seconds we would have been at 2.16, which would have had us pacing another effort from the wooden spoon year of 1985 – 2.17 against Carlton in Round 2 in 140-point loss at Moorabbin. Not to mention North had kicked 13.14 themselves, and had the game sewn up at the first change.

The willingness to compete and hunt in numbers was what ultimately separated the teams. Ours certainly isn’t blessed to too much skill, but it went above and beyond in being first at the ball when it was in dispute and spreading hard into space when we had the ball. Without Sandi the Freo midfield were furthermore on the back foot, and even without Jack Steven ours still dominated from the centre and across the ground. Dunstan, Lenny, Joey and Armo all racked up big numbers, with Lenny and Armo finIshing with 17 tackles between them. Mav Weller had six tackles and made an impact up forward, setting up Joey for his snap goal in the third quarter with a deft handball back over his head out of traffic.

Probably a strange thing to note, but should that third quarter burst go down as the peak of this season, then Farren Ray’s two goals within 30 seconds play are the summit. The high, curling ball was followed by a quick break out of the middle, with the chain featuring Mav and Sav, and a snap from the left pocket. Faz has returned to some of his better form at times throughout this season, and he did it in just about every part of the ground on Saturday. Amazing how he seems to slip under everybody’s radar; I think he might be worth more around the club than we give him credit for.

I mentioned Sav in there; he actually finished the game with the equal most disposals, alongside My Favourite Hair. Again, a revelation that came out of the wash-up, but Richo and Armo spoke about Sav getting a dressing down from the group and how he’d taken it on himself since then to get himself right. It also helped that Richo started him further back, allowing him to be get his hands on the footy and use his run and long kicking to set things up from there, not to mention to push up and supply the forwards also (see Faz’s second goal where he’s received the ball charging off half-back just forward of centre). Things will change at the other end I’m sure, but right now – even with Acres having an injury-interrupted season – the McEvoy trade is paying off.

Which brings us to the ruck situation (at least for the purposes of the flow of this review). Longer enjoyed the closest to free reign at stoppages we’ve seen a St Kilda ruckman enjoy for several years. I’m somewhere in between with Longer and Hickey playing in the same team. They certainly couldn’t now, as neither as probably quite developed enough just yet across the ground. Interestingly, it’s the third forward that for the time being is so important. Is Bruce, for instance, effective enough that Billy can drop forward whilst Rhys gives him a chop-out, and the forward line can still function effectively? Whether or not Billy and Hickey can provide a decent target up forward, or at least have a presence around the ground, it will effect the forward set up also. We won’t know for a while though due to Hickey’s injury. Or injuries, rather. I must say I’m just starting to get a little worried about that.

I quite liked Bruce up forward. Hair-wise, it’s a great complement to Roo. As Richo said, he didn’t get huge numbers but simply his presence (particularly the third quarter) was enough to worry Fremantle, as well as allow for more space to Roo and Rhys. Hopefully he can develop his own influence on the scoreboard.

I think special mention needs to go to Sam Fisher also. He said on the club website that he would play for another two or three years if the body could hold up for him, and if he could maintain the kind of impact he had on Saturday. He’s a very necessary calm influence on a side that is still going to get a lot of pressure coming the wrong way for a while yet.

But yes, it’s easy to get carried away with a performance like that. Everyone played well, really. It was a great day at the footy for a St Kilda supporter. It was three months to the day since that Saturday night in April when the Saints stormed over the top of the Bombers in the second half to put at three wins from the first five games. At the time, facing a winless Brisbane outfit the following Friday, it felt like we might already be on our way back up. That we might have avoided the cliff that everyone told us we were heading for.

Well six days later we certainly found that cliff. Instead of 4-2, we’re now 4-13 and 18th. I really don’t know how much closer we are to being on our way back because of Saturday. We certainly shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves over this one. Freak occurrence? Sign of things to come? Lenny-inspired effort? I think it’s all of those things, but I don’t know how much of each. So for now, just enjoy Rhys running around grabbing everything and kicking goals. Enjoy Dunstan willing himself at contests. Enjoy Newnes setting things up and looking to put on another tackle. More than anything, enjoy Lenny, because he won’t be there much longer. Fuck it, just enjoy it.

Great win/Mention Eli Templeton

Round 2, 2014
St Kilda 5,0, 8.1, 12.4, 15.5 (95)
GWS Giants 4.2, 9.3, 11.5, 13.10 (88)
Crowd: 19,640 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, March 29th at 1.40pm

In 1924 the Public Service Football Club was formed and proposed admission to an expanding VFL.

It was an attractive proposition for the VFL, who was in a long-running tussle with the VFA and had to also contend with the threat from rugby and the “British Association” code (football/soccer). The VFL was looking to expand its number of clubs from nine to at least 10 (in part to eliminate the bye), as well as carry out a huge powerplay against all three foes by taking control of what would become the Olympic Park site, the Amateur Sports Ground, previously known as the Motordome (motor races were also held there). What made the Public Service Football Club a convenient addition to the League was that it was backed by Melbourne Carnivals Pty Ltd, which had the rights the site. Plans were made for a 100,000-capacity stadium on the site which Public Service would play out of, but the stadium itself would also allow the League to have its own major stadium and not be held at the whim of the MCC just over the railway line.

The idea of the League’s own stadium would eventually bear some sort of fruit in the form of Waverley, which was initially planned to be a 157,000-capacity stadium (some say 140,000 and others 166,000) and to host all Grand Finals from the time the ground’s planned redevelopment was completed around the mid-1980s. However, the MCC would remain a bugbear to the VFL – the State Government refused to approve the plans to extend the Members’ stand all the way around the stadium as it had interests in the MCG and didn’t want to threaten its hold on the biggest day of the footy caldendar.

Meanwhile, the Public Service Football Club never made it out onto the ground. They eventually withdrew their VFL application late in 1924 and were provisionally accepted into the VFA before Melbourne Carnivals backed out, and they disbanded. The VFL had cooled on the idea of admitting the chess piece, too, eventually showing it had learned the lesson of non-district club University’s failed admission 16 years previous and opted for three district clubs – Footscray, Hawthorn, and North Melbourne, who narrowly edged out Prahran. In another display of strength by the League over its Association counterpart, the VFL obtained State Government permission to take on North Melbourne into its ranks, and take away the VFA’s most central ground in Arden Street – a move the Government had thwarted in 1921. The League had effectively opted for one chess piece over another, but chose the one that actually stood for something.

One of the obvious questions to come from the Public Service proposal was that, being a non-district team like University, where would their supporters have come from? It’s a question worth asking particularly considering their home ground could fit 100,000, and was one that was posed at the time. Who exactly would they be representing? I don’t think public servants already supporting a club would drop everything and suddenly jump on the [Insert club nickname here]. Those involved involved with the club were certainly confident of “ample” support. Although not a huge focus at the time, the branding would obviously be difficult – University, still the only non-district club to have competed at the highest level, were referred to by the organic but rather dry nicknames of “The Professors”, “The Students” and “The Shop”. Not sure how the Public Service would have gone with that. What about their colours? What about their song? If they managed to survive the Depression and then World War II, surely the idea of a profession-based team would seem outdated and untenable in the long run anyway. Most probably they would have morphed into a very central Melbourne team or shipped out to an outer growth corridor with a generic name, perhaps similar to that of “Melbourne City Football Club” in the VFA. Or “Greater Western Sydney”.

Whilst the VFL would eventually see off the VFA threat, effectively killing off the competition and its clubs’ identities and then swallowing it to the point where it’s now, indeed, called the VFL, the code wars involving Rugby League and Association Football never quite went away. The now AFL still had (and has) large untapped markets in Queensland and NSW to capture – i.e. Rugby strongholds that needed to be tempered, and growing Assocation following that needed to be thwarted. New chess pieces were required. A presence on the Gold Coast had been established with the Brisbane Bears from the late 1980s, and so the idea and formation of a Gold Coast-based team to take on the NRL’s Titans and Queensland’s strong Association popularity was a long time coming (and for a while was simply dependent on when North Melbourne made up their minds as to whether they wanted to be shipped up there or not).

“Greater Western Sydney” was likewise created out of nothing to give the AFL a slow-burning powerplay against the NRL and FFA in potentially the most lucrative of those untapped markets; a region that is almost a city in its own right with a growing population that is currently over 1.6 million. The Association presence there is growing, and it includes NRL giants (so to speak) Penrith Panthers, as well as West Tigers. Unlike those that talked up the Public Service Football Club proposal, the AFL has publicly been very conservative in talking up the fanbase prospects of both GWS and Gold Coast for the short term. In an attempt to fast track the building of support for both teams, the AFL gave them every draft concession possible over the last several years. When GWS beat the Swans in Round One, it announced the biggest step the young “club” had taken on its way to becoming an on-field juggernaut.

For now the question remains – who are the GWS players playing for? Who would support them? With branding a huge necessity, GWS for now is more a brand than an organically-created football club playing for its loyal members. It’s Brand AFL, a collection of the best talent possible assembled to showcase the game for potential fans in Sydney’s West. Their colours were officially chosen to represent the sunset of the Blue Mountains – a nice sentiment but more likely orange was chosen because it’s on-trend and unique to the league. The name “Giants” was chosen over four others (Stallions, Pride, Wolves, Rangers) most probably because for impatient sports fans who don’t have too much time for sport but are apparently what the AFL will drop everything for, “GWS Giants” is more fun to say because of the alliteration.

As for Saturday afternoon, the players were (apparently) playing for the 20 fans behind the Coventry end goals wearing orange novelty wigs and orange novelty robes. Which was strange, because the GWS Twitter account had posted a picture of some of the cheer squad looking rather respectable before the game. Obviously they have some backroom staff doubling as costume and wardrobe designers.

If there’s one thing GWS got incredibly right it’s the song. It’s probably my favourite in the league – it sounds big, it moves; it sounds like an appropriately ominous anthem for juggernaut team wearing charcoal who, rather than having any visible support, seem more like a monolith standing in the way of everyone else and their dreams. That will be realised when they run out onto the MCG on Grand Final Day in the coming years.

And so it was on Saturday. I was in an incredible rush to get to the game specifically so I could hear the song – I wasn’t able to go to the 2012 meeting at Corporate Name Stadium (the day we wore the newspaper/”Thank You” jumper, and should have won by a club record margin) so this was my first time hearing it in person, apart from the hundreds of times I’ve played it in my room. It was everything I wanted it to be.

You wouldn’t know too many more people were excited to them run out and play at all. Great goals and dramatic goals that threatened the Saints throughout the match were met either with audible exasperation from the St Kilda members’ wing, or, such as Giles’ fourth goal in the last, stunned silence barely overcome by a brief whisper at the away end once the umpire signals a goal.

On the field, where the actual stuff happened however, this game was a really good tussle between what seemed two evenly matched, youthful teams, only with that weird invisible force of the AFL’s desires backing the Giants throughout. Patton, Cameron, Greene, Scully, Smith, Boyd, Treloar, Coniglio, Ward, Whitfield, Shiel, Davis…they’ll get their way eventually. But they didn’t manage to on Saturday, despite all the hype and confidence spilling over from the shock Round 1 win. Their players’ reaction on the siren was that of a team who had truly built themselves up for a game they thought they were going to win. I’m not an aggressive supporter in any way, but have to admit I felt a strange surge of something as I watched the Giants’ players standing and slumping solemnly after the siren. For the first time GWS actually counted for something as an opponent, and this weird growing monster had been beaten. It had been beaten by a team that had given loyal and long-suffering fans something of their own to look forward to in the coming years.

I’m under no illusions here – I think we’re gonna get our arses handed to us at Subiaco/Corporate Name Stadium on Saturday. Eli, Dunstan, Hickey, et. al. have played pretty well two weeks in a row and I wouldn’t be bullishly expecting these young guys to back it up again so soon, and against opposition like that.

But that’s not the point about this season. 2014 isn’t about 2014. It’s about the years following.

A highlight for all of us was Eli running past My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s spilt ball up against the boundary in the last quarter, taking it on himself to to the 50-metre arc and deliver a perfectly-weighted ball to Dunstan in the square who was closely marked. My brother Matt turned to me in our new level 1, aisle 33 seats and said, “That’s the future right there”. He said it quite facetiously but at the same time was entirely serious – these are the kinds of plays we’re going to be seeing time and time again over the coming years.

So let’s get it out of the way and start with Eli, shall we? I had surgery a few weeks ago for compartment syndrome and shin splints, and when he kicked that goal on the run in the third to bring things back to seven points I jumped up so quickly to celebrate I thought I’d split one of the cuts wide open, and split another that was already open even further. Fortunately there was no excess damage done, so I can retain that memory as a fond, clean one.

Eli only had 11 touches but so many of them were quality. There was the aforementioned goal, taking a mark from a Nathan Wright hook and getting his skates on, and there was what proved to be the match sealer after CJ totally ruined covering Big Tom Hickey in glory, who was about 20 metres closer to goal than where the kick landed. It was more about his composure in a huge moment that was impressive. He started pretty well too, pressuring the much more experienced/incredibly huger Josh Hunt to the boundary line, and there was a great delivery to Roo on the members wing (which ended in Farren’s goal), which he reprised in the third quarter. There was another moment where he had the ball in the same spot where Roo gestured to kick down the line to around the 50-metre arc where there were big number from both sides, but he paused and decided to go to the middle to switch the play and we ended up with a scoring opportunity.

It was probably fair GWS went in favourites. It’s easy to compare them to Gold Coast ad nauseum, so I will. Even though they’re a year behind they look a lot more hardened and wired to play more physically. As slick and increasingly entertaining the Suns are to watch, I think GWS might have a more effective balance going forward and when I think that they’ll be operating a forward line featuring Cameron, Patton and Boyd in it not only do I prefer watching them more even now, but I think judging only on what we’ve seen they’ll be more successful in the long run.

Things started just that way with GWS keeping things difficult in close, forcing a lot of sideways, short or ineffectual kicks and handballs. At the nine-minute mark the scoreboard showed the possession tally at 32-7 the Saints’ way, but within one minute and two GWS kicks scores were level. For much of the quarter they simply looked cleaner and more efficient.

I think the Giants sensed the Saints weren’t handling the attention well. A pleasing moment was Dunstan being unable to be brought down by a couple of opponents in traffic, and when Giles gave Roo a shove after the ball had cleared the boundary it was he and Hickey that came in to have a crack. It took time, but eventually the physical pressure was evenly matched and both as a spectacle and in terms of crowd involvement (read: the 32 people that were there involvement) things hit a new level.

Yes, it’s unbelievable to think now but for a while early in the game it looked as though Beau Maister couldn’t drop a thing, even if the contest involved only him and a teammate. He even got the Bronx cheers first up when he was part of the chain that led to Joey’s first goal. But his disposals were typically awful, and by the time the game was well into the second quarter he was back to spilling all and sundry. I’ve said before he operates as if he comes into each game with the same percentage quota of marks to actually hold on to, regardless of degree of difficulty. I feel like this year he’s really lowered that number. So much so an older person sitting just behind declared that “If Maister is selected again next week, I’m going to write the club an email”. I left it.

So perhaps it was ironic (not sure if that’s the technically correct use of the word) that he was instrumental in the final goal (as was CJ’s royal botching of a right-foot kick – see the reverse angle replay for confirmation he was looking for Hickey closer to goal), creating chaos when he hit the pack, giving CJ the chance to take it away in space. Maister’s work ethic can’t be questioned. He gets to everything, but very few teams would have it good enough a player that gets to everything but can’t hold the mark. Tom Lee hasn’t been showing enough just yet at Sandy to make that second forward position his, and Spencer White isn’t near it yet so we might not really have an option for another week.

Speaking of some bigger maybe or maybe not holding their marks, BIG RHYS BANDWAGON took several really nice contested marks high up around the 50-metre arc, but also comically dropped one when there was a brilliant miscommunication with Maister on the wing in the last quarter. He dropped one or two other gimmes, and missed two set shots at goal from a nearly identical spot. The encouraging thing was, however, was that it looked like for much of the game he’d got his positioning around the ground right and was taking the marks in the right spots. He’ll need to keep it up otherwise he’s going to revert to simply being in the side because he’s tall and quick without the footy. MY FAVOURITE PLAYER Arryn Siposs had an improved performance in the VFL on the weekend but would still be a few very good performances away and perhaps injury before looking like playing.

So it  was left to Hickey as the second big man to make their presence felt up forward. It was the best game of St Kilda’s Own Stephen Merchant‘s career – three goals, 19 possessions, and telling aerial contest at both ends of the ground, finishing with eight marks. A number of people on forums (lol) and in the media (also lol sometimes) have questioned why the Saints let Big Ben go, but as Roo said last night on AFL 360 Hickey has played his two best games in the past two weeks and certainly on Saturday had a profound impact on the outcome of the game. He was made The Post-Match Interview Guy for the Week and noted that he set himself to use his athleticism to exert his influence in the one-on-one contest throughout the game, with Mumford’s huge frame meanwhile allowing him a comfortable 46-20 in the hit-outs.

Hickey’s follow up work has notable improved, too, but he’s barely played the game for half a decade and will be prone, like all the young guys, to inconsistency throughout the season. He’s got Big Cox and Nic Nat to contend with on Saturday, and that could end in kinds of sad if next week is a “down” week for the youth brigade.

For the second week in a row, however, the ultimate difference was My Favourite Hair. It’s hard to come up with anything that hasn’t already been said about Roo, let alone the attention he’s been given after two wonderful performances. Five goals, was involved in setting up more, but it was both his willingness and rare ability to step up and work hard when the game was on the line. To lead that much harder, to make that much more of a contest, to read the play well enough to know exactly how to do it all to maximum effect. Given his knee condition it seems impossible that he’d be able to keep up this kind of form throughout the season, but given his reaction after the siren over the past two weeks it looks like he’s got reasons that he really believes in to keep going. I always do fear he’s an injury away from the end of his playing days. He wants to play finals again; though unlikely that would be something wonderful to see.

GWS for much of the game had the ascendency and as I felt at half-time looked essentially a goal or two away from truly busting the game open. Even with Cameron and Patton well-held Smith and Giles chipped in for five and four respectively, and things felt very St Kilda-esque for players like that to all of a sudden decide to kick career-high (or at least equal-high in Giles’ case) goal hauls. Strangely, the tide turned with Dempster’s quite risky decision to play on from a free kick outside 50 and in less space than ideal rocketed a goal. He’s been a bit accident prone at times up to that point, but he was crucial alongside Ray, Gilbert, Delaney and Gwilt in that mad last quarter as they thwarted GWS’s numerous manic attempts to find a goal.

Ray again played what I thought was an unheralded role. His goal really was classy, but he put himself in the right spots so many times in defence and found plenty of the ball around the ground too.

It was great to have Lenny and Joey back. I know that Lenny didn’t get as much of the footy as he usually did, there was some real quality in his disposals and he even led like the consummate professional forward in that last quarter. Joey was good too of course – 25 possessions and a goal, but his experience and leadership is invaluable also, like Lenny’s.

The there was Armo, who collected 29 touches, a goal and a mark of the round nomination, captured best by this wonderful Wayne Ludbey shot which I’m sure will follow his career around. He’s looking bigger this year and using his frame to the team’s advantage. Whilst his numbers might go up and down – hopefully he can maintain them this year – his frame allows him to do the physical stuff that doesn’t get counted but really force the issue in tight.

Pleasingly, the tackle count was led by Tom Curren with seven. He was quiet otherwise but showed that he was ready to but his body on the line even if he wasn’t finding the footy himself. Also pleasing is that just behind him were Delaney, CJ, and Dunstan with six. CJ had his moments – he actually managed to hit a target with his right in the third quarter on the members wing, which everyone audibly approved of whilst finding comical.

Then there was Shane Savage. I actually thought in a game like that, bringing Josh Kelly on in his debut match wouldn’t be worth as much as a Shane Savage coming on and exerting himself in the middle and when the ball needed to be moved quickly forward, and would work in the Saints’ favour. Though given not a huge amount of time, it felt as though he had little influence. Numbers-wise, he had five kicks in his short time on the field which certainly isn’t bad, but it was Kelly that really impressed with 11 touches. He’s obviously incredibly raw physically but he really did apply himself well. I must admit that a few weeks out from last year’s draft I was hoping the Saints would get him, as at the time there was still talk Aish or Scharenberg might go as high as pick two, and with Boyd the obvious first pick it left Kelly, Billings also potentially available. I’m absolutely stoked to get Billings – he was my clear favourite for pick three once it was clear GWS would go with Kelly – but at the time I just thought the list’s situation called more for a pure midfielder. That’s been tempered by Dunstan for sure, as far as boosting midfield stocks go (they’re obviously different types of players though).

Dunstan again was impressive, taking the initiative to get physical in tight and his mark to finish off Eli’s delivery to the goal square in the last was really good. In talking with Rich and Nate I’ve struggled to articulate properly what they and everyone else can see – he’s ready to go. I can’t remember the last time a new young player made such an immediate impression and impact on the group and on the field. Nathan Wright had a great debut last year with a few good games following before injury, but that was in a weaker side and Dunstan’s game has more impact on the match as a whole. He actually looks like a farkin’ footballer; in fact I think I trust him as a player because he comes across as so un-St Kilda like. Sure of himself, someone that has led and someone that knows success – he was South Australia’s captain in their Division 1 Premiership at the U18’s National Championships last year. Easy to say in hindsight but I look at his first two games and compare them to what was shown by and became of Alistair Smith, Brad Howard, Justin Sweeney, and Nick Heyne. So far, we’ve got the first part right.

From my seats I must say the fans really have taken to the younger guys. It felt like people were very encouraging to the younger guys and understanding where they were at – Saunders was busy early particularly, but actually got a positive reception simply for his willingness to keep the ball moving in front front of him heading into attack in the first (in the lead up to Armo’s mark).

Nathan Wright’s well and truly back and in everyone’s good books too. His second and third efforts were really good and I love his willingness to hold on to the ball and take just enough time to make the right decision or take on his opponent. Like Dunstan, I like him because he doesn’t come across as having a St Kilda background.

Not sure about next week. I think Savage deserves another chance – particularly against a more experience side in the Eagles – but The Only Ross at St Kilda had 33 touches at Sandy and Billings got four quarters of game time. Milera was good too by all accounts, meaning he’s strung a few decent performances together and might be better as a straight swap for Savage. But right now I haven’t even registered that he’s still on the St Kilda list. Dylan Roberton did fark all, and if he’s replaced it would come down to team balance. Maybe Head Simpkin, maybe Josh Bruce, maybe Dunell, but I doubt it. Sam Fisher and his magnificent hair are still probably more than a week away, too.

Saturday afternoon footy is still king. Easy to say that, and easy to say I had a great time in hindsight too knowing that St Kilda did win. But the late third quarter rush had us all feeling good about footy again. Yes, Round 2; yes, two wins against the only two teams that finished below us last year. There are different reasons for the excitement this year, however. It was a great day at the footy watching St Kilda.

Who knows? Maybe it’s GWS that the Saints will be facing off with on the last Saturday in September some time later this decade. I actually thought briefly that this felt like the kind of game St Kilda and Geelong might have played early last decade. But at the time, the burden of history was great and paralleled between both clubs. Cruelly, when teams like St Kilda, the Bulldogs and Melbourne would be aiming for a successful period it’s GWS and the Gold Coast that would have established themselves up the top of the ladder, with plans to set up camp indefinitely. Any rivalry a club like St Kilda would have built with a franchise like GWS would be based on the here and now. GWS may count for something more than just an opponent. Rather, a weird monster, an AFL HQ-backed force, looking to crush a team hoping to give its loyal and long-suffering fans something of their own to look back on over the years.