Season 2006 Posts

Jason Gram, fallen Saint

It’s with unease that we’ll reflect on Jason Gram’s career at St Kilda.

According to Michael Gleeson it was already decided by the club to delist him, but, by finding himself in trouble with the law again on Monday, Gram wrote his own epilogue.

He wasn’t a serial offender throughout his career in the way the much higher profile Ben Cousins and Brendan Fevola were. The Andrew Lovett incident happened in his apartment, but that wouldn’t have happened if Andrew Lovett wasn’t there. It’s only out in the open now that he had been suspended indefinitely by the club early in September after, well, a Jason Gram incident (or, series of smaller ones – as far as we know). But after the stalking charges he faced very publicly earlier in the week he’ll be remembered by being mentioned in rubbish jokes by partisan idiots still bringing up the “St Kilda schoolgirl”.

Had his personal issues not encroached upon his footballing career, we’d remember him instead for his frustrating Jason Gram Specials that hurtled aimlessly through the air to no-one in particular. We’d remember him for his breakout 2006 season in which he really got his run and rebound game together, which earned him 2nd place in the Trevor Barker Award and us all incredibly excited about his future. We’d remember him for his vital role in the 2009 backline;  and particularly for his 2009 Grand Final performance. Whilst he was one of many culprits who blew a good chance at goal that day, he tied for the Norm Smith Medal – only to lose it on countback to Paul Chapman. If the Saints had won that day – and it’s a big, hugely irrelevant “could have” now – Jason Gram may well have been the best player on the day the club won its second premiership.

Instead, from the point in time that may have seen him go down in football history, he was patchy. The Jason Gram Specials never went away, and injury conspired against him too.

I feel uneasy writing about this kind of thing. Ultimately, this is about someone else’s personal issue, whether or not we support him because he is/was a St Kilda player, or whether we’re jumping on to Facebook threads to try and relate this to Stephen Milne being accused of rape eight years ago. He might be an AFL footballer but he’s also a fallible human being. As a fellow fallible human being I hope he can get over his issues. I only know about his situation what almost everyone else does, sprinkled very lightly with insider information that’s questionable. Either way I can’t claim at all to know exactly what the situation is. We all know that it’s seriously effecting him – that’s public knowledge. And it’s a messy place he’s in.

As is the nature professional sports and their fans, there’s all sorts of attitudes towards Gram being offered on forums, Facebook threads and Twitter, despite people not knowing or understanding the mechanics of the situation. You can pity him – some may even genuinely be able to empathise with him – for the kind of psychological state he would be in right now. Some have criticised him for throwing away a privileged lifestyle and career. Then, of course, there’s that camp that are cracking gags about the club’s culture.

From a purely football perspective, a lot of fans could take or leave his presence on the list, and I’d tend to be one of those. At 28, realistically he won’t be there the next time the Saints are rumbling the top end of the ladder, and his absence opens up a spot for youngsters like Siposs, Newnes, Dunell and Ferguson. Gram’s currency as a St Kilda player, given where the club was, probably reached its use-by date at the end of the 2010 season.

But that’s an easy thing to say in hindsight, and likewise it’s easy to say things from afar as supporters and observers. None of us except Jason Gram himself can really know what he’s feeling. He deserves the same degree of empathy we would give to anyone else we’re not personally familiar with, but there’s a balance required here. I don’t think you can just treat this as a purely football issue; we have to recognise that it goes far beyond that. But it goes far beyond us, too.

On Ross – May 2012

For this week at least, St Kilda fans have been able to feel a little vindicated by Ross the ex-Boss’s decision to leave the club for the Purple Haze at the end of last season.

The Dockers have been universally criticised for their smashing at the hands of the Eagles on Sunday, having kicked only five goals in the process. They’ve indeed had Ross’s defensive blueprint stamped on them, which has riled some Freo fans and those who haven’t been a fan of his style of footy since he took up senior coaching.

As for the Saints, another barnstorming, entertaining win against good opposition with young, exciting guys at the fore has players and fans optimistic after the dark age that was season 2011. On Saintsational forums everywhere, Twitter and Facebook many in red, white and black have been quick and keen to criticise Ross.

But it all sits uneasily with me. I’m certainly not the only one, but judging by the reception the Dockers and Ross received when they defeated the Saints several weeks ago I’d be in a small minority.

2006

It was different when GT’s tenure finished.

Having taken over the coaching job in the same year that Roo, Kosi, Milne and Hamill played their first games for the club (via different pathways), and bringing in Dal, Joey, BJ, Goose, X Clarke and others that seemed set to take this club to glory through the aughts – and as a former player himself – GT felt like a part of the furniture. His close relationship with the players made me feel like there was a real presence in the coaches’ box from our members’ seats on level 2, like there was another player in there (regardless of what we thought about his capacity for effective match day moves). Indeed, his close relationships extended the other way too; he was close friend of then-President Rod Butterss.

So when GT got sacked by his now ex-friend Butterss it felt like the club had kicked out one of its own. A shocked GT wearing a shirt unadorned with the St Kilda logo and sponsors at the press conference was a strange sight.

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04/05/06 = 09/10/11

Some off-season fun/overthinking/consideration of how history likes to toy with St Kilda fans.

2004/2009
A marked improvement on the improvement of the season before.

2004 saw the Saints win their first 10 matches in unprecedented fashion, and go 6 wins/6 losses from then on through the remainder of the home and away season. The Preliminary Final loss had the Saints six points behind when the final siren sounded.

Five years later, the Saints won very nearly double the amount of games to open their season – 19 against the 10 of 2004 – and go 3 wins/3 losses from then on, against the 6/6 of the remaining games in the 2004 home-and-away season. When the final siren sounded in 2009 Grand Final, the Saints were six points down.

2005/2011
Roo would go down injured in sensational fashion in both seasons; the incredible season opener against the Lions juggernaut in 2005 and in Round 3 against soon-to-be-juggernaut Collingwood in 2010.

Over the first couple of months of each, the Saints would genuinely struggle at times. Inconsistent form and issues against quicker sides saw disappointing losses before drastic improvement around the midway point of the season. 2005 would see eight wins from the last nine matches leading into September; 2010 10 and a draw from the last 14.

Both seasons featured epic victories against the odds in Qualifying Finals. The 2005 1st Qualifying Final will be remembered for the Harvey-led Saints knocking off minor premiers Adelaide on their own turf by eight points; the 2010 2nd Qualifying Final will be remembered for the Saints surviving a late onslaught by warm favourites Geelong to turn the finals series on its head.

The Saints would be jumped early in the Preliminary Final against the Swans before working their way back into the game. A seven-point lead at three-quarter time had the Saints in a great position to advance to the premiership decider and deliver on the promises this energetic group seemed to have made to the club’s long-suffering fans, but the Swans stormed home in the final quarter – seven goals to none – as the Saints were left shellshocked.

Fast forward five years and the Saints were coming off heartbreak from the previous season, which for all intents and purposes was set to deliver on the promises the energetic group seemed to have made to the club’s long-suffering fans. A strong performance in the Preliminary Final against the faltering Bulldogs gave way to being jumped by Collingwood early in the Grand Final before the Saints worked their way back into the game. Goddard’s <I can’t find words to describe it accurately because it makes me too sad> mark and goal had the Saints up by six points as time-on neared in the final quarter, only for Collingwood to hit the lead again before St Kilda came again to force an incredible draw. Collingwood stormed home to a huge win in the Grand Final Replay, however, as the shellshocked Saints couldn’t find an answer all day.

2006/11
After coming so close two season in a row, the Saints would look as if the game had passed them by in both 2006 and 2011.

Slow starts to both seasons had ACL injuries to Lenny Hayes as their centerpiece. Despite being written off, the second half of both seasons was quite strong and had the Saints playing at levels close to the best of the two seasons previous. 2006 saw the side win eight of the last 10 home and away matches; 2011 11 wins from the last 15.

Wasted opportunities early in the season would prove costly to the Saints’ final ladder placing – see the wasteful performance in the Sirengate match of 2006, and close losses to Geelong and Carlton and a draw with with Richmond in 2011 – and the side would be overrun in the final quarters of each season’s respective Elimination Finals after sixth-placed finishes.

Of course, both seasons would see sensational coaching changes in the days following the Elimination Final knockouts. Grant Thomas would be sacked by the board, headed by ex-friend Rod Butterss, whilst Ross Lyon would do it all himself as he set sail for Fremantle in unbelievable circumstances.

Both times, it marked the beginning of a new era.

Polo grabs his second chance

Guest writer Kieran Francis takes a look at the rejuvenated Dean Polo, who has enjoyed a string of good games since his return to the St Kilda side several weeks ago. You can follow him on Twitter @kieran_francis, and check out his blog, St Kilda FC 2011.

Back at the 2004 Under 18 Championships, Vic Country squared up against South Australia in an early group match.

The South Australian side contained a young, damaging midfielder named Ryan Griffen. Vic Country’s coaching team handed the job of shutting down Griffen to an ungainly, scrawny-looking kid from Gippsland. After completely nullifying Griffen whilst helping himself to plenty of the ball, Dean Polo thrust himself into the calculations of recruiters for the 2004 AFL Draft.

He achieved top 10 results in the agility run, beep test and 3km time trial at the AFL Draft Camp, and recruiters at Richmond saw enough potential in Polo to take him at Pick 20 (Griffen was selected by the Bulldogs at Pick 3).

After a year of developing at the Richmond-aligned VFL side Coburg during 2005, Polo starred for the VFL side in early 2006 and was finally selected for his debut in the Dreamtime game against Essendon in Round 6.

Five minutes after the final siren went, he was standing on the presentation stage next to Craig Willis after being awarded the Yiooken award for best on ground. He had kicked three goals, had 28 disposals and been the main reason why the Tigers defeated their archrivals on the big stage. Richmond fans started getting excited about the future of this talented midfielder.

A little over four years later, however, Polo was delisted from Richmond. His career at Punt Road never got going; despite playing every game for the rest of the 2006 season, Polo fell out of favour and only played another 39 games for the Tigers in four seasons.

As the gloss of his debut game wore off, queries were raised about Polo’s disposal efficiency and decision-making. He was never a prolific ball winner, averaging only 16 disposals a game during his time at Richmond.

The final nail in the coffin of his Richmond career was when Polo was stood down for a week after being involved in the infamous Ben Cousins-Daniel Connors punch-up at a Sydney hotel in early 2010.

Polo only appeared three more times for the Tigers after that incident and was dropped despite a solid 19-possession game against Collingwood in Round 17. It was his last game for the club, as two months later he was culled from the Tigers list. Most expected that it would be the last they saw of Polo at AFL level.

Some people had other ideas, however.

In a draft day shock, Polo was the last player selected in the 2010 draft, at Pick 103 by St Kilda. It has since emerged that Ross Lyon was an admirer of Polo’s abilities. Whilst Polo’s weaknesses are often publicised, his strengths are what drew Lyon to giving him a second chance.

Standing at 187cm, Polo had always been a great contested mark for his size. His ability to win the ball in contested situations was also an important factor in the recruiting department’s decision. Lyon obviously felt that Polo, who isn’t quite 25 years of age, had his development stunted in the Richmond system and that it was possible for him to reach his potential in the St Kilda set-up and be an important squad player. Ross, as usual, was right.

When selected by the Saints, the decision to take Polo was not only ridiculed by Tigers supporters but also by a majority of Saints fans. He didn’t appear throughout the NAB Cup and the start of the AFL season because of a thumb injury, and it wasn’t until the knee injury of Hayes that Polo was mentioned in St Kilda supporter circles as someone who could play a role this season.

Having recovered from his injury, Polo made his debut for Sandringham in Round 5 of the VFL. After two solid but not overly impressive performances for the Zebras, Polo was a shock selection for the Round 8 match against the Hawks. He announced himself with a goal in the first quarter. Despite the Saints losing by five goals, Polo had a solid debut.

Polo was OK over the next few weeks, but not to the point where he could keep selection in the side. After a three-round hiatus, Polo was reintroduced to the side for the game against the Kangaroos and hasn’t looked back since.

He has become a very important player in the squad. The injury to Hayes meant there has been a spot available in the midfield rotation, and Polo’s performances over the past few weeks have gone a long way to claiming that spot.

The ability of Polo to come off the bench and give the more prolific ball winners a break whilst locking down an opponent is understated. His work in pack situations has also been exceptional.

Averaging a career-high three tackles a game, he has slotted in seamlessly to “Saints Footy” with his defensive pressure and repeated efforts. His handballing out of a pack in a contested situation is elite.

An example of these traits was seen late in the first quarter of the game against West Coast when Polo lost control of the footy at the top of St Kilda’s attacking 50-metre arc. Instead of letting the Eagles rebound through the corridor, Polo applied pressure to two Eagles opponents respectively, stripped them of the ball and fired out a handball to Raph Clarke, who hit Nick Riewoldt on the chest inside 50.

Polo’s worth to the team was also highlighted during Friday’s 103-point romp against Adelaide. His elite contested handballing was a factor in at least four St Kilda goals, including a direct goal assist to Stephen Milne early in the first quarter. Fifteen metres out from the St Kilda goal, Polo won a possession in a huge pack of players and in the same movement fired out a handball to Milne who snapped truly.

He also laid a career-high seven tackles on Friday night. These are the kind of unheralded efforts that are starting to earn Dean Polo respect at St Kilda.

It remains to be seen how much the relatively young Polo can develop in the St Kilda system. Can he make the step up from important squad player to gun midfielder? The majority of doubters to his selection in the draft have been silenced and it’s looking like another Lyon decision may prove to be a masterstroke.

Saturday night fever (the bad kind)

Another week, another must-win game for the Saints.

It’s a familiar scenario, as seasons 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and, at stages, 2010 saw the Saints battling in the latter part of the year after slow starts or troubled early periods.

Those seasons obviously offered a wide variety of results, and sadly 2011 is set to be one of the leaner ones. With the competition’s in-form team/locomotive in West Coast coming over this week, there are echoes of the failed Docklands battles in Round 18, 2006 and Round 21, 2007 which played huge parts in snuffing out the Saints’ wilder hopes.

This week is a good chance to follow suit.

Of course, there’s St Kilda’s incredible record at Docklands on Saturday nights to humour ourselves with – undefeated at the place and time since Round 9 of 2003.

That night, Collingwood was playing with its ailing legend, former player and coach Bob Rose in mind. This week, the Saints will wear black armbands for the departed Allan Jeans, and they’ll need to channel Yabby’s wisdom and fire to get over the line.

West Coast’s rise has been driven by a healthy mix of experienced heroes from the mid-aughts, and younger players coming into their prime. Cox, Embley and a rejuvenated Kerr – who is doubtful for this clash – have been joined by Priddis, Shuey, Rosa and Hurn on the Eagles’ frontline, and that’s before mentioning hype-machine Nic Nat.

Talls Kennedy and Lynch have been dangerous up forward, and they have LeCras and Nicoski buzzing around them. The former pair have formed a dangerous rotating attack of bigger bodies with Cox and Nic Nat, and the Saints will be stretched – nearly literally – to combat them.

Winning form is good form, and the Saints will be tempted to keep their line-up settled after last week’s big win (margin-wise, and that’s about it) against Port.

Lynch will probably come out for Kosi, who will return from suspension, otherwise Clarke may be the only other in danger of being dropped. Assuming height is the name of the game, Blake had a strong defensive performance in Sandringham’s woeful and unfortunately televised loss on Saturday, and would probably get the nod ahead of Walsh and Simpkin if there’s another change to be made.

Anything else would just be tinkering, and there won’t be much time for the Saints to do that once the ball is bounced on Saturday night. It won’t matter where they’re playing.