St Kilda Posts

Messrs February

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The intra-club is always an unusual exercise. If your forwards fire that could just highlight a gaping hole in your defence. If one midfield dominates it suggests a lack of depth, and if your defence play well then everyone would blame Paddy. But the weather was nice and I’m a poor student who couldn’t afford to do anything better, so I went anyway. And after AFLX (put it in the bin) what could actually be worse?

I parked my car out in the proverbial back paddock (a strange sign that people still support this club) and attempted to cast my most biased intra-club eye. My initial thoughts were that RSEA Park actually resembled an establishment where a professional sporting team might reside, however I feel as though a giant St Kilda shield should be plastered on the exterior to be seen from the playing deck (after listening to the Saints Insider Podcast this might still be on the way).

From inside, the set-up is fresh and clean. One of the large LED screens had a pixel issue but this was still a long way from the stale beer-carpet smell we all once enjoyed. With new people working inside the set-up, Ratten, Lade, Slater and Bassett (and still Lethlean to an extent), you could sense the optimism and the thirst from the fans for a fresh slate.

It was touted as a family fun day, however a few highly audible expletives starting with “f” and ending with “k” from a disgruntled ruckman put that to a quick and fast end. Already more passion shown for the entirety of 2018 (fist pump). The first-half appeared to be a St Kilda team taking on a Zebras team (plus Blake Acres). Billings, Gresham, Steele, Membrey, Hannebery, Steven, Webster, Carlisle and Long all sat out so some polish wasn’t quite there. Armitage didn’t play (for excellent reasons) and I couldn’t remember if he was still an AFL player (following a quick Google search it turns out he is).

Wearing last year’s light green training jumpers, the Zebras team (as we affectionately referred to them) didn’t do your eyes any favours. Trying to make out what number they had on their backs while competing with the sun glare was a tricky exercise, but pre-seasons aren’t meant to be easy or else everybody would be doing them, right?

VERY loud pop-music from 2016 played in between breaks, and this limited the capacity to express any thoughts to your counterparts.

Josh Battle has assumed cult status quickly and the Moorabbin faithful took a further liking to him, gushing over his seamless transition into the back half. He did look natural, however time playing on Bailey Rice probably helped his cause aerially. New recruit Matthew Parker was the other who had fans frothing. He kicked a few goals and immediately assumed “don’t mess with me” status with his tough-guy tatts, as opposed to AFLX winner and Gatorade Gamechanger® Tim Membrey’s skater-guy tatts. We want him to play Round 1.

I’m somewhat surprised (respectfully of course) Ben Dixon maintained his post as goalkicking guru post-2018. The goalkicking was still mediocre, both from the spot and in open play. In his defence I’m not sure how many of the players he is working closely with in his reduced role were actually playing. Good luck to Ben with his endeavours at the club.

Paddy was putting his head in dangerous places as he always does. He sprayed a few kicks around the ground but was fit and lively and found a lot of the footy, and break-out year may be written in the tea-leaves. He got angry in the final quarter; the entries into the forward 50 were sloppy and he was man-handled by Darragh Joyce and received no assistance from the umpires and made sure he had a word with them. Overall, he made a solid impact and looked as comfortable as we’ve seen him (minus the helmet, which does not look comfortable).

Bruce played a typical Bruce game, kicked a FEW goals, jagged a FEW marks but didn’t finish off quite a few of his marks after doing all the hard work. Blake Acres’ cause wasn’t helped by his selection on the Zebras team in the first half as the opposition won the majority of the clearances and controlled the play.

The ruck stocks are lean. Resident LARPer and former Pokémon GO enthusiast Billy Longer didn’t play, so he had a similar impact around the ground to when he does play. Rowan Marshall was at the contest but was a little slow getting rid of the ball and the opposition caught him out a few times. The Prospect strikes me as the 14-year-old kid in juniors who hasn’t fully grown into his body yet, and who has upside if he doesn’t pursue other interests. Lewis Pierce looked ok and showed emotion, while Equal-Tallest Player Ever Sam Alabakis is still learning.

Dean Kent assumed the Mav Weller role incredibly well by playing “okish”, we need to see more of him. We liked Hunter Clarke and we liked Luke Dunstan, Robbie Young had a turn of foot, no certainty to see him debut though.

Overall, an ok day. The biggest plot twist was the players doing run-throughs after the game that they didn’t know were going to happen. Let’s see what happens against actual opposition out at Chirnside Park next weekend.

Called upon

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Just about everything is a PR exercise now. Every social media post (I’m talking about you and me, as well as the St Kilda Football Club), every line in a professional situation, every line in a social situation, and every membership ad (now I’m just talking about the St Kilda Football Club).

The 2019 membership ad (or “campaign”? The “TVC” suffix was never going to see the end of this decade) is one of the better ones the club has produced. Ultimately, it’s PR. They want the club to appear a certain way, and that it’s heading in a certain direction and as it empathises with us and the journey we’ve been on for the past 22 (146) years, so we buy memberships so they have more money. The club has $6 million more to pay back the AFL, and the same amount again to whoever else; they have players to pay exorbitant amounts of money to, likewise a whole lot of coaches, less so a bunch of staff. Most of them want to keep their jobs, and the more money that comes in means they can market the fineprint of the Road to 2018 (which says it was actually the Road to 2020), and then we keep turning up no matter how many times we’ve got guys kicking it forward to empty space and wasting another several years.

They need to pay marketing people to tell them to not just shit on the club song by using a bad cover version, but how about deep into a terrible season we tie in our major sponsors and have a marching band lead out the laughing-stock team while pretending to play a Dare-themed version of the club song? The club also needs to pay marketing people to tell them to play music after goals to enhance the experience of being at a Concrete Dome (which is now a Disney store, so I guess they can save some cash there) because the experience of being in the crowd and watching the Saints isn’t enough. They also need to pay someone to write about how great the crowd noise was, and then to pay the marketing people to tell them to keep the music going for a couple of months, and then to turf the idea later in the season.

The point is: all this shit costs money, and they need some more money from me this season, and they need some more from you.

Well, guess fucking what? Of course I had my membership on the auto-rollover thing. Would I have signed up again even if I didn’t have the money automatically taken out of my account in the four seconds we have left in the year in which we’re able to forget about footy? Of course I would have. I always do. Now let’s dissect some tripe, and I’ll start off with a stupid theory about how the ad was made. I thought about this because this actually was my experience of watching the ad for the first time:
Short version I think the way that this was made is supposed to leave you looking at your own face appearing on the screen after the faces of Long, Burke, Clark, Winmar et al.
Long version This theory assumes that whoever/whichever team of humans made this ad assumed that a lot of people would watch it on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, whatever; but importantly, they would most probably watch it on their phone. And if you do that holding the phone towards your face as you normally would, as it cycles through the faces of Long/Burke/Clark et al and then Winmar, it quickly fades an almost entirely-black screen at the end that will be showing the reflection of your own face as the narrator says “I will stand with St Kilda / When I am called upon”. Don’t fuck it up.

 The first thing that really stood out in this commercial – and was genuinely surprising – was a very, very brazen acknowledgement of the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals. Given this ad came in the same week as a media blitz that has included Andrew Bassat’s rightfully and refreshingly harsh comments about the decision to move to Seaford and the player recruitment over recent years (that may well have been forced perhaps subconsciously with a PR element), as well as Richo’s “punch in the face” line about feedback that should have been given to him six months earlier, it suggests a couple of things.

(Before I get to those, Richo’s revelation about having feedback sent to him to open in the US rather than just said to his face quietly completed a full-circle over 20 years. Like the ad, the media blitz has seen the club look to show empathy and contrition, but has ended with the communications between key personnel at the club – namely the coach and captain – being publicly questioned by Tim Watson, who two decades ago was about to start a two-year reign as coach that arguably triggered the entire GT-into-Ross era and the Riewoldt generation.)

OK cool, so the club is publicly acknowledging not just the management mistakes but the lasting effect that the Grand Finals have had on the club and its supporters. It uses the word “landmark” for the Hayes and Goddard moments in 2010, and they were, but really they were in an awful sense. They effectively represented the end of an era that began with the drafting of Riewoldt and Koschitzke with picks 1 and 2 in the 2000 draft, and a what wasn’t achieved throughout it.

The acknowledgement itself quietly marks the passing of time and how those times are now a part of our history. It is 10 years since the club was about to embark on the 2009 and 2010 campaigns. They, and the several years that came before it are history. That’s what was written. And as a St Kilda supporter it’s been fucking shithouse living it then and since.

In a curious case of revisionism, the club made us all aware on the socials this week that it had put up a large image of Nick Riewoldt on a wall within the Moorabbin facilities. That in itself isn’t strange – if anything it would be strange if they didn’t – but there were some odd decisions made around exactly what they put up and how they promoted it. The thing is, the photo is of him just after kicking a goal in the third quarter of the 2011 2nd Elimination Final (a screenshot from the Channel 10 coverage of that celebration is at the top of this post – you can watch the goal and the celebration here). While the thick black collar and cuffs of the jumper that year are retained in the image (we had them in 2011 and 2012, and then again in 2016 with a slightly different ISC template), the Centrebet logo has been neatly photoshopped to be the white Jeld-Wen logo worn on the front of the jumper in both 2009 and 2010. I would suggest there are a couple of things at play, namely to remind us of better times (if photoshopping was the only possible course of action in this instance, and not finding an actual photo from 2009 or 2010, they could have photoshopped the black collar and cuffs into white as well as the Jeld-Wen logo, and you would have the 2010 home jumper); and it was also a convenient way to edit out the logo of a betting company.

That the club posted it on the social media channels with Dennis Commetti’s line from the 2009 Preliminary Final, “It’s only fitting” felt a little bit cynical – anyone who makes that connection is actively being led to think that the image is from one of the better moments of the Riewoldt era, rather than a trying moment of a losing Elimination Final that ended an awful come down of a year and one of the most remarkable eras in the club’s history.

Already, the relationship between the supporters and the club is revealed to be something peculiar. Bassat is saying everything right that he possibly could have said in his short time officially at the top. But we’ve just come out of an alienating year season when all the parts that make up going the footy were difficult – barely an attachment to the team or the game they were paying, the song was changed to a bad cover version, and the club itself sapped any genuine atmosphere the fans brought by playing music after goals. We didn’t get hundreds and thousands of dollars a year and media careers out of what the club wasn’t able to achieve since 2000. Indeed, to experience it all, we paid a lot of our money and gave up a lot of our time. And now a supporter base that is rightfully bored, pissed off, anxious and depressed as fuck is being called upon to do it again.

Past tense

Round 23, 2017
Richmond 4.1, 11.5, 12.7, 19.8 (122)
St Kilda 1.2, 4.3, 9.9, 12.9 (81)
Crowd: 69,104 at the MCG, Sunday, August 27th at 3.20pm

 

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I’ve been putting off writing this. It can’t possibly be a game review as it usually would be. Inevitably it would be all about Nick. Writing about his last match would also make the fact that he is now retired more real.

Thinking about his final game is to think about his career and be moving in and out of moments of hope and heartbreak, and very little in between. I began shedding a few tears when the scoreboard flashed up his career statistics in the minutes after the final siren; the first time I would see any final reference to his playing career. 336 Games, 718 Goals. That’s how it will remain.

For all intents and purposes, Nick Riewoldt was the one who would lead the St Kilda Football Club to its second premiership. I don’t know how many times I’ve written that on this thing, let alone just thought it. The thought of him holding the premiership cup made sense. Who else would it be?

To believe in Nick Riewoldt playing in our next premiership challenge was to believe that we might be able to find redemption for anything that happened throughout all the extremes since the 2000 and 2014 wooden spoons, and what we seem to refer to now as “the Grand Finals”. Nick was someone that had been there with you for that journey. It made sense that he was the number one pick at the end of the year 2000, at a(nother) ground zero for the club that he would lead with his good mate picked at number two to the promised land. He won the 2002 best and fairest, a season that returned just five wins and a draw. He was a key part of the 2004 and 2005 teams. He was the one who led the team out on the Grand Final Days of 2009 and 2010. It’s worth noting that he was at the front of the “St Kilda schoolgirl” bullshit in the months following the Replay, that marked the beginning of the end. His faux-knee in Round 1 apparently heralded the handover to the players who we hope are part of our next premiership challenge. To watch the end of his career is let all of that go, to let it all become part of history.

In lieu of vast quantities of team success over 144 seasons, it is individuals that we have had to celebrate more so about this club. Nick was a beating heart in a human body that represented the club. Right now we can only hope that this club is better for having had him. Hell, even our premiership has solitary elements to it. We remain with the failed St Kilda identity in tact. One Darrel Baldock. One Ian Stewart. One Tony Lockett. One Robert Harvey. Still, somehow, One premiership, by one point. One Nick Riewoldt.

***

I shed more than a few tears as he was carried off by The Most Inaccurate Man in the AFL and, wonderfully, his cousin. I’d taken both my Maddie’s Match and membership scarves to the game and wrapped the former around my face. I stood outside the MCG after the game for a bit but they weren’t really going to stop, so I walked to the city with it over my face the entire time and caught the 58 tram home, sitting in the corner facing backwards and out the window.

Until I’d come home and watched Richo’s post-match press conference and the highlights I could stay in that moment in which we were all experiencing Nick Riewoldt’s last match. He wasn’t quite retired, not just yet. For just those few moments. But watching back his final post-match interview on the ground, his final moments in a St Kilda jumper on a footy field – one based on the jumper he wore in his first game, no less – Richo talking about the day in the past-tense, and then an interview in the rooms with Nick himself made it very real. I ended up pulling my dressing gown over my head, lest an individual look up to my bedroom window overlooking Brunswick West and see my oddly lamplit face crying at my desk over the computer. On behalf of whoever might stumble across that: no thanks.

What to say about the game itself? By quarter-time the season was officially over as the Dockers’ late push against the Bombers fell short. Our effort ended up being a disappointing replica of the Melbourne match just a fortnight earlier; in fact, all three results on the Sunday were the opposite of what was required for us to make the finals.

If we shat ourselves under the pressure of the occasion and the gaze of 53,000 people against the Demons, then the 69,000-plus fans might have amounted to the most people Billings, Gresham, et al might had ever seen in one place and the effect was the same. Never in it as Richmond looked like the top four team they’ve become, getting first use and breaking down any move we made coming the other way, and getting an even contribution across the ground.

Flipping the Port Adelaide result would have only meant missing out on finals by percentage for the second consecutive season, and we were rightly left lamenting inherent aspects of our game plan rather than just thinking “what if” about a few moments and ignoring the constant inaccurate kicking and useless delivery going forward.

The final few minutes were almost – almost – enjoyable. The stress of this season, the stress of having a countdown clock on Roo’s career, they were coming to a close, and it should be pointed out the Richmond fans and players were excellent in their reception of him after the game. His first mark on the wing in the final minutes was met with a huge cheer, as we sought to soak up what he brought the field for perhaps the final time. The umpire decided to step in and pay a free kick to his cousin Jack, which was a little bit funny to begin with, and was made funnier when the smiles on the ground brought everyone in on the joke. Shortly afterwards he took another contested mark in the same spot, and still managed to break the emotion of the moment by kicking a torp. I don’t think he particularly tried kicking it any further than he usually would have; he carefully put it onto his boot to make sure he kicked it correctly, and it took me a couple of days to realise it wasn’t a barrel at all – it was an NFL-style punt; a nod to a sport he loves and the country that is now an integral part of his life.

It would prove to be his last contribution. He would be on the goal-line for the final the siren; the final play of his final game. As Josh Bruce moved to wrap his arms around him, Jade Gresham – who had turned 20 three days earlier – kicked his fifth goal.

***

It would be remiss of me to not mention Joey after today’s announcement. He never got rid of the loopy kicks and he was probably the most unfashionable of a core midfield brigade with Lenny, Dal and, for a period, Harvey, Thompson and Powell. He was capable of long running goals too but also handy for some clever moves. His great goal late in the third quarter of the 2009 Grand Final has been pushed to the darker corners of our memories. It would prove to be our last goal of the 2009 season.

He was overlooked over the past few years as a leader around the club. It’s hard to compete with Riewoldt’s blonde hair alone on the field, and it’s more of a shame that his exit would be pushed so far into the background. Leigh Montagna’s 2010 season is second in St Kilda history for most disposals with 745, 10 ahead of Robert Harvey’s 1998 season and 11 behind his 1997. Joey’s 2009 is seventh on that list. Of the 1,589 people to have played for St Kilda, he has played the seventh most games.

***

“Be proud that you’re a St Kilda person.”

In the frenzied off-season following 2010, Nick made an impassioned speech at the club’s annual general meeting. He closed with these words, which were so simply against the tide of the time. In front of the board, the entire playing list, and members, he took a swipe at the media and at anyone looking to “denigrate us”. As fans of course we were all feeling it, and the 2011 season would prove the players were too. The introduction of the black collar and cuffs on the jumper felt like a mark of disgrace emanating from the failed premiership bid over so many seasons, and after so much promise.

It was left to him to guide the club out of the black hole it was swallowed by. Even in the 2010 Draw, it was Roo who wouldn’t let us go down, who took what remains an overlooked mark across half-back to shift the play to our front half for the final score and final moments. In a club that has only existed in extremes, seven days later he would be on the wrong side of the moment that represented the gulf between the teams. Dodgy knee and frustration aside, he took on the figurehead role through another wooden spoon, and the early, unrewarding stages of a rebuild. Of course, he suffered extreme personal duress in that period, also.

For the first time this club will be without a clear leader, or clear heart and soul. Barker’s career overlapped with Frawley and Lockett, which were given over to Harvey, Burke and Loewe. Harvey remained, and Lenny and Riewoldt were there to take on what had been built from 2009.

That lineage is done now appears done now. It really began with the 1991 and 1992 finals appearances, took in 1997 and the failed 1998, the rebuild to 2004 and 2005 and then 2009 and 2010. History will tell us if it represented the closest to a golden era the Saints can get after the period overseen by Allan Jeans. That era succumbed to a long winter, and after this season we’re painfully unsure that this rebuild will take us close.

***

That Nick Riewoldt would ever retire seemed something bordering on unfathomable for so long. I remember early in 2004 thinking how bright and how endless the club’s future looked. Nick embodied the notion that GT instilled in him – that the way footy is played can be a reflection of the person. Nick was the embodiment of St Kilda in a number of ways, and therefore he represented something so dear to us for so long.

Nick’s retirement is sad perhaps because it felt that it came at the right moment. That definitively it would ever be a reality. It is a reminder that time doesn’t wait for anything or anyone. Not even Saint Nick.

And then there was one

Round 22
St Kilda 4.3, 8.14, 14.17, 18.19 (127)
North Melbourne 5.2, 6.3, 8.5, 12.6 (78)
Crowd: 29,126 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 20th at 3.20pm

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It’s hard to write much about the game itself. It was probably the most accurate encapsulation of a rather odd season in one game – plenty of missed chances at goal, fluffed opportunities from the goal square, a demonstration of the gap between ourselves and the lower teams, a lot of Seb Ross and Jack Steven, some Hotline and Gresham, the looming presence of My Favourite Hair in the AFL and his future, not much Mav Weller, absolutely no David Armitage.

There was also eight marks taken and two goals kicked by said My Favourite Hair. After almost a full season of chatter about whether or not he’d play on in 2018, a few weeks ago we officially got our answer. Sunday was the kind of day that seemed unfathomable for so long, and for how sad his lap of honour in front of a St Kilda home crowd was, this Sunday afternoon will be very difficult.

All of a sudden this has become more real. Given the ridiculous moments and lapses that underpinned the Port Adelaide and Melbourne matches in recent weeks we now have an almost certain end date. This was a dry run for Sunday, but even then there plenty of tears around the stadium after the match.

It was a borderline dead rubber and realistically was played in that manner. Plenty of open play, a lack of real urgency that you can sense when a season is still to be played for, and some comical errors. The Acres to Sinclair to Dunstan slapstick was the headline act; the Gilbert banana goal overturned for a throw to him, and then Gresham’s sneaky pounce goal from the resulting North free kick was a close second.

The lack of urgency was something you could sense from the start. North’s win-loss record belies how competitive they’ve been this year and after the disappointment of the previous week I wasn’t going to be surprised if we were a little flat and caught off our guard. If Brown hadn’t have hit the post they would have had six goals for the opening term, including two goals in last 26 seconds.

The match day entertainment again fell a little flat on quarter time owing again to some, uh, Jake Carlisle-based issues after all the faux-drama of his pre-match. The club obviously doesn’t and shouldn’t take into account scuffles on flowing beyond the siren of any quarter, but for the second time this year Emma Davenport has been put into the position that she has to bring a family friendly and/or feel-good segment to the crowd on the big-screen when everyone’s wound up (or whatever the equivalent was for Sunday) and absolutely not in the headspace. It happened on three-quarter time of the infamous Blues match earlier this year when she had to bring us “Saints in the Seats” after Murphy had a crack at Jake Carlisle who was lying on the ground after being smacked in the nuts, following everything else that had been yelled about between players during the game. The mood was heated, Carlton had frustrated the Saints (except for Hotline) all day, and I ended up screaming at him that he was a “fucking dog” and “weak prick” immediately afterwards (with a small child directly in front of our membership seats), and sending out an ill-informed tweet that I deleted later. Carlisle was involved this time too, but much more actively in that moment. He managed to get reported twice after almost not making it out there. His back seized up in the pre, pre-match warm-up and it looked like Brandon White was going to come in (he shouldn’t have come out in the first place, really). But the big screen cut to the rooms just minutes before they ran out and he was doing whatever handball drill they were doing, and then bizarrely he ran out by himself – again, wonderfully, in the long-sleeves – for a quick kick-to-kick with a trainer before running back in, and then running back out with everyone else. He was still reaching for his back as the team came out from the banner and was clearly in no shape to do the bullshit mini-sprint drill. Whilst whatever jab he’d probably received eventually kicked in, he wasn’t able to take Brown, so Brown was on Brown, and Brown would have had a much dirtier day if Brown had kicked straight, because Brown just couldn’t keep up with him on the lead nor compete with Brown in the air. For as long as North were taking it up to our mids, Brown was looming as a key player and it was looking like the Coleman Medal might have “Brown” etched on it soon. Brown had to stay on Brown for the entire match. That’s about how many times I heard that line used during the game from someone in the crowd, to go with the constant high decibels emitted from the mouthy kids that sit directly behind my eardrums.

Billings and Gresham’s polished finishes in the opening term at the Riewoldt end be damned, we were going to send Roo off from the stadium the best way this team knows how – by missing goal after goal after goal. The aforementioned Blacres/Sinclair/Dunstan job was obviously the highlight, which shows just how bad it was given it was competing for a spot amongst the plethora of entries in a season-reflecting, season-beating 4.11 for the quarter. That included 15 consecutive forward-50 entries for the return of 3.11, and keep in mind Sav kicked a goal from a set shot after the siren.

Josh Bruce kicked things off of course; Jack Steven ensured he still incredibly has not kicked a goal from a set shot this season, Dunstan missed a set shot, Billings missed a snap around the corner from deep in the pocket, Blacres and Seb missed too.

Jack Steven picked up 40 touches but in a year that he obviously struggled for attention I think we’re mostly over what his ceiling is. His kicking can be haphazard and he’s kicked 6.15 this year. He’s obviously not the only one afflicted with the team-wide illness and perhaps that’s something that might be contained to 2017, but that’s still what he’s bringing to the team right now. A particularly soft effort in front of the members in the last quarter had me rushing to “Nick Riewoldt would never do that” thoughts, but with the improvement of Seb Ross, the form of Luke Dunstan in the five games since returning to the team and the development left in Jack Steele and Blacres it’s the depth and to a certain point the versatility that those on the list currently will bring. Armo may or may not exist anymore, Gresham and Billings are better suited to the “high half-forward” roles, Sinclair and Newnes are different types of wings, Koby Stevens has probably shown his best (not such a bad thing) and Freeman may not even get out there. The list is still incomplete, which is right now is an exciting thing.

The real X-factor in that list is Blacres, who brings speed, acceleration and size in a way the others don’t to what still looks like a blue-collar side. He’s one of the few guys in the team that are willing, let alone able, to break through traffic and create new angles on the line of play, as well as releasing and bringing other teammates into the game and affecting movement in the process. His disposal still needs work and he still comes across as an airhead at times, but I still think his progression and style is a this-decade version of BJ. He’s also got the size to go into attack and play as a lead-up forward, and his set shot kicking is much better than most – his goal from the pocket was very, very nice. Maybe the calamity that was the Port finish is slowly fading (maybe), and Blacres played arguably the key role in that. So when he kicks into the man on the mark just outside the 50 metre arc late in the game and then runs over and pushes the guy over, gets the ball and gives it off to a player running past (Sav) for a goal, that shows development and certainly makes us a feel a little better (for the moment).

Blue-collar tag perhaps, but as Billings, Gresham, Sinclair and Acres all become more prominent those small spikes of class are showing through. Billings’ and Gresham’s goals were a tease for what this year could have brought more often but also for the wait over the off-season ahead, and does anyone dare say that Sinclair’s finesse in dancing around his opponent and kicking that third quarter goal was…Harvey-esque? It’s much easier to bring in the comparison given he’s wearing 35, but even his hair is getting gradually suspiciously bigger as he gets better.

One thing that might have popped out of Richo’s post-match press conference was how unequivocal Richo was about Gilbert playing next year. Brandon White was dropped which was strange, but who else do you take out when you’ve gotta play Nick? He’s obviously not in danger or losing a place on the list or anything, and he’s one of the most promising guys we’ve drafted over the past decade going on their first handful of games. But next year will be different, and if surely we couldn’t play both Joey and Gilbert the entire year, although that’s more of a Joey conversation than Gilbert conversation. Gilbert has shown more intent than many of his teammates throughout the year, and no one would deny him that. If anything his game has actually improved, but is that at the cost (potentially) of developing White and D-Mac and Rice? Will there be enough improvement from the younger guys across the rest of the team that would justify playing a guy who’s turning 32 (albeit towards the end of the season – he just turned 31 last week) in the side?

That only 29,000 turned up is a blight on the wider St Kilda fanbase. I found it strange Richo and Jack Steven (i.e. the club) went out of their way to point out what a great turnout it was. The club has more than 42,000 members, and it was almost embarrassing when the crowd number went up on the screen. Not just that the number itself was low, but because looking around the ground fuck me if there was actually anywhere near 29,000 there. What else does it take to get Saints fans to turn up? It’s a beautiful day and the Corporate Dome still has a closed roof for our “comfort” (i.e. enhancement of match day garbage), but since that long ago time in which we were a competitive side, we’ve gone from not turning up at the open MCG under any circumstances to not turning up to an historical home match with all components of a TV studio.

Conversely, I’ve really started challenging what I expect and should want to get from this football club for a host of reasons. Its incompetence has an almost unblemished record of more than 14 decades to point to as a get-out clause for fans, who most recently got to see the club piss away more than a decade despite having the biggest non-AFL gifted armoury of top draft picks. But this is the legacy of this particular one individual that the club – which has had to celebrate individuals in lieu of its own success – will need build on if it wants find the promised land. Turn up.

The sadness of the moment post-match probably caught a lot of people off-guard. Yes, this had definitely become a real thing. It was hard to not tear up (if you hadn’t already) as Roo ran the final lap in front of the home fans. The future might be a very uncertain place without him, and for as long as he was around there was a link to the teams of 2004-05 and those that came so close to a premiership. For as long as he was around those heights seemed maybe not so far away. Once he’s gone we’re going to be looking to a lot of difference faces and a lot of different people. There might be an element of fear in that for supporters. I certainly feel it. I certainly shed a few tears as I crossed the Bourke Street bridge and headed for the tram. This is an event for St Kilda, and for St Kilda supporters.

Barring the kind of miracle in the final round of 2008 that gave us a slim chance of a premiership for Sir Robert (of course it didn’t eventuate), this Sunday will be the last time Saint Nick runs out in a St Kilda jumper. Embrace it, enjoy it, appreciate it.

Hour after hour

Round 21, 2017
Melbourne 6.3, 9.6, 10.9, 14.12 (96)
St Kilda 1.1, 4.4, 8.11, 10.12 (72)
Crowd: 53,115 at the MCG, Sunday, August 13th at 1.10pm

Early this year Richo said development for this team in 2017 might not necessarily be reflected in a better win-loss ratio than 2016. Some key elements the group needed to improve on included consistency, the gap between best and our worst, and performances on the road in particular.

It seems like we’re forever playing whack-a-mole at Saints for problems (i.e. excuses), whether it’s over an extended period or on a certain day. Too many injuries throughout 2004, 2005 and 2006, adjusting to a new coach in 2007 and 2008, can’t kick straight on Grand Final Day in 2009. And so on.

But when we look at the record books (i.e. AFL Tables, FootyWire, etc.), they will show that for much of this season our own worst enemy was ourselves. For as long as football is played, sure, goalkicking will remain something of an issue. Somewhere between the insane pressure of being out on the ground and in the game, and having to get your body up for another effort after a raised period of intensity and adrenalin in the moment preceding it, players will struggle to get everything right. How much is too much? Grand Final Day 2009 was too much, and this year was too much.

How fitting it was that our goalkicking proved to be a major undoing on the day that our season effectively ended, after months of frustration and post-match press conferences of Richo saying the players “are working on it”.

That’s not to take anything away from Melbourne, by the way. For most of the day they worked harder to provide numbers for each other in tight and across the ground, to provide movement, were simply cleaner with their ball use and for the most part took their chance. They were good enough to keep their heads when faced with giving away a 40-point lead in time-on of the second quarter, and keep attacking after the newly-haired Membrey put us within a goal early in the last quarter.

Even on our winning days this year, kicking straight would cost us percentage that right now is the exclamation point on our inferior win-loss record. Never mind kicking ourselves out of the West Coast game. Want a maiden win over the wooden spooners to be? Have 14.23. Dominant win over the Pies? Enjoy 9.15. We all laughed when Josh Bruce ran into goal and hit the post – we’d coasted to 19.16 and a 75-point win over a broken Hawthorn. Not only had we wrenched back our season, but were looking sure things for a top-couple pick in the draft.

A few months and 12.13, 12.17, 14.19, 12.17 again, 7.15, and 8.13 and Robbie Gray later, here we are. Josh Bruce missing very close shots at goal twice, shanking a big set shot and losing the ball from his bounce as he ran into goal in the last minutes was the Champs-Élysées stage of our relevance to the 2017 season.

We will bemoan giving away a hefty lead early yet again, but inaccuracy and its podium-placed teammate Kicking Into Attack again proved far too telling far again.

There was also the lack of DARE® Iced Coffee that has underpinned so many of our poor starts, but that might not have looked so bad but for some awful entries going forward. We’d already hit the Down the Line button within the opening minutes but a few times we caught them on the break, only for Weller, Sav, Ross and Dunstan to not be able to kick it to the advantage of Gresham – Dunstan’s kick across the square was particularly awful – Sinclair and Membrey (or in Weller’s case, just the goals themselves). We’re not even talking hitting up leads here, simply goalside would have been enough, but the trend was to have the ball fall short each time. There’s the good kind of consistency and the bad kind of consistency.

A turnover from a bemusing-at-best Bruce handball (after a questionable mark from a questionable Seb Ross kick) the finished with a goal to Pedersen summed things up for the quarter, but it was just a taste of things to come from Bruce. This was before the third quarter onslaught of Gresham, Billings, Membrey et al. missing shots.

Seb Ross had had 14 touches at quarter time but it felt like several too many. Maybe he was feeling for Jobe, and he was working hard but an inexperienced James Harmes reflected the intent and composure that Melbourne brought by kicking three goals himself and honouring the hard work higher up. There is a tipping point at which having a whole bunch of looks forward doesn’t matter if you’re not going to kick straight or use the ball properly.

Since the Port Adelaide game particularly, but built on a solid base of uncompleted marks throughout the year, I think Bruce has come to represent working incredibly hard for little reward. The Port game was a great example – wet conditions, tough for a tall forward, interstate and a hostile crowd, and formidable opposition for a St Kilda-style dramatic finish (i.e. heartbreaking loss). but he gave contest after contest even though the delivery wasn’t great (also ran into the post taking a mark and Membrey kicked the goal from the spill). However, he finished with 0.3 in a game that we were 2.12 when the three-quarter time siren went, and still 8.13 by the end.

The Hawthorn miss will be played for years to come, and the mood was positive enough for Richo to crack a gag in the post-match following the Richmond game about him inventing ways to miss goals. His 2.5 was comical for the close-to goal shots that he missed, but from that point it’s just become tiring, so much so that the whole thing bent back on itself and became funny in a because-we-hate-everything-and-ourselves way when he fluffed the bounce running into goal in that late play. Because last week he missed the set shot from in front when the game was there to be won, and today he missed another in the third quarter, alongside a kick out of mid-air within a metre or two of the goal-line that went across the face rather than directly into the goalmouth and was instead fired into a Melbourne defender’s hand. They were sandwiched between a poke from a couple of metres out in the pocket in the second quarter that went across the face, and the bounce later on. The moment had well and truly come and gone by then.

Bruce finished with five marks but at what point do we hold Richo accountable for his public reasoning for dropping Bruce earlier this season? It was because he wasn’t completing his marks and not kicking goals. At what point does a player become a liability, no matter how hard they obviously work, no matter how they’re able to will themselves to the next contest even though they’re risking perhaps another missed mark or a missed shot, no matter how much it obviously affects him in the moment afterwards. I hope so, so much that he comes good and that this is part of the malady that has afflicted the wider team in season 2017. He’s not the only one guilty of missing shots at goal, but he’s certainly the best at it. If the players willed themselves at contests as much as he did we’d be much higher on the ladder right now.

One of the few highlights of the first quarter was the backline. Carlisle ran out in the long sleeves for the third week in a row, but the genuinely excellent conditions sadly saw him swap those for the short-sleeve version at half time. Either way, he was again a huge presence in defence, and as the game turned our way and we pressed higher he still remained incredibly difficult to get past, wherever he was. That we weren’t at least eight goals down at half-time said as much about how poorly we were beaten across the ground and how poor our use was generally, as much as it did about Carlisle and Roberton holding the defence together under a barrage, with White and Brown in support.

Hotline’s willingness to drop back and get involved in tight and plug space in the defensive 50 felt more like the result of his. Usually if we or him is playing well (whichever comes first) his mark count is higher because leading from the forward half to the ball, and he’s been thrown back because the coaches hasn’t quite figured out what to do with him or we needed someone who can kick an Australian Rules football competently using it off half-back because we’re on the back foot and aren’t playing with enough DARE® Iced Coffee. Rarely did we even look like wanting to try and take the ball through the middle.

It wasn’t until he was lining up for goal in the second quarter that from the broadcast side I realised his face looked, uh, different. In our frustration and disappointment – general descriptions again, but I think valid – we probably didn’t appreciate his game enough. Yes, that was made more difficult given he kicked 1.3, including hitting the post in that third quarter from a set shot, a running chance in the last quarter (a reminder of Schneider at the other end in the 2009 Grand Final) and then one completely out on the full later as the game hit Officially Dicked status, but FFS he had 30 pretty decent possessions all across the ground with one eye and a face twice the size of his regular face. Like Bruce, we can only hope this a team affliction that he’s been hit with (today Gresham was on board with them also), because he’s kicked 20.32 this year. The pick 3 that we all felt so good about using on him when the final siren went last week feels shakier right now, but at least this time he’s got a decent excuse. Here’s to another decent pre-season for him, and that hopefully someone tells his hair it’s not 2006 anymore.

What the hell else is there to say? Mav didn’t turn up in a game that was begging for someone that thinks that they’re a huge presence to make an impact. Gresham didn’t come to meet the moment when we was often has hunted it. Ross tried but just couldn’t. Gilbert battled hard. Sinclair’s reaction to his mopping up of Bruce’s mess was actually funny in a borderline pathetic moment. Of course, it was St Kilda that a team like Melbourne would meet in that situation – their biggest game for more than a decade – and win in front of their home fans. In which Cam Pedersen and James Harmes and Mitch Hannan would all have such pronounced impacts, and which Angus Brayshaw would come back and play a genuinely effective game, and be involved in head clash that took our player out for the day.

I simply could not begrudge Melbourne or their supporters anything from yesterday, or whatever positives they might get out of this season. The best of this game – and perhaps the best of humanity (broad, overreaching statement I know) – is built on empathy. For every time we acknowledge how hard or tiring or frustrating or draining or heartbreaking it is being a St Kilda person, that should give us the understanding to be able to truly revel in great moments for the game itself if we can understand and acknowledge the lean times those that also follow this game might have endured. Until last year, the Bulldogs were our closest analogue, and their achievements should have been something we could nod towards and celebrate. Melbourne has now taken that mantle. Until 1964 they were a powerhouse, but given that year saw their last premiership, not to mention how and against who; their record since then and the depths their fans have somehow made it through since 2007 have brought them more into line with our own overall. Their last win of the pre-2007 era came against us in the 2nd Elimination Final of 2006, with a scoreline of 13.12 to 10.12. Their first loss of 2007-present era was against us in that season’s opening match, and in the weekend’s quasi-Elimination Final they beat us with a score of 14.12 to 10.12. That last bit says fuck all, really. But I’m a sucker for that kind of garbage and it was on my mind at the time.

And where does having empathy leave us as a football club? Right where we fucking were. Be disappointed, be angry, be exhausted by another lost season. Next year, the club is officially on notice, from the players, to the coaches, to the board. The “Road to 2018” plan has us making the top four next year. Anything short of that has to be answered to by everyone at the club. That doesn’t make it better if St Kilda doesn’t finish in the top four, of course – it’s essentially gone unchecked for 144 years anyway. Maybe I’m feeling like I’m at a point in my life that I need to just pull the reigns on what I hope to get from this club.

I remember a chorus of Saints fans singing the club song on the bridge following the win against Richmond. We were sitting inside the four at half-time, and were only a few cheap conceded goals away by game’s end from at least being able to enjoy a spot in there that night, ahead of the Sunday games. Having already strung together several wins that had us in the same position earlier, it felt like we’d reached a new normal. That we were really challenging now. As I walked from the ground towards the city yesterday afternoon the chiming of the Federation Bells sounded “It’s A Grand Old Flag”. It wasn’t as loud as that crowd on the bridge, but it was much more poignant and definitive. We have more waiting to do.