Steven Baker Posts

RWB 2011 player reviews – Part 1 of 4

We take a look at each player on the St Kilda list and their performance in the 2011 season, in alphabetical order over four parts. Part One features players from the rookie-listed Warrick Andreoli to the club’s best performer in the season, Nick Dal Santo.

Stats courtesy of Pro-Stats.

Warrick ANDREOLI
0 games

The rookie-listed Andreoli will surely be a casualty of an aggressive list clean-out, not having impressed enough at VFL-level to warrant another year at theout Saints. The winger played only six senior games at Sandringham and nine in the reserves, and was outperformed by several others on the rookie list through the year.

Daniel ARCHER
1 game, 0 goals

The first of eight Saints to debut in 2011, Archer’s first and last kicks in his career to date were very forgettable – two shanked kicks, the latter a missed opportunity at putting his side in front in the dying stages of the Round 2 match against Richmond.

Promoted from the rookie list after a strong showing in the NAB Cup as a pack-crashing forward, he found himself playing out of position through the year for Sandringham. At 193cm and not overly mobile, Archer is best suited to that forward role, but with Gardiner and Stanley spending much of the year injured (and after the premature retirement of Steven Gaertner last year), he had to spend most of the season as an undersized ruck. Some decent performances may just be enough to warrant keeping him on the list for another year.

David ARMITAGE
22 games, Club 2nd for contested possessions with 227, Club 3rd for tackles with 110, Club 1st for tackles inside 50 with 21, Club 1st in total frees for with 35, Club 1st in total frees against with 38, 12 goals

The first two months of the season had Armitage on track for a belated breakout year. Lenny’s absence meant a spot opened up in the midfield, but it seemed that Jack Steven was the youngster that ultimately grabbed the opportunity best. That said, Armo would surely have been travelling well in the best & fairest votes until being moved out of the centre and on to the half-forward flank; Saintsational forums everywhere would have it (upon what appears to be good authority) that Armo wasn’t happy with the change.

Being taken out of the action from the Round 9 Melbourne match onwards – the game that Jack truly announced himself as a bona-fide midfielder – Armo would only affect games in short bursts. He finished the season 4th for the club in clearances, with 61, despite playing much of his time away from a midfield role for the better part of the season.

It’s widely acknowledged that he only signed on for another year at the end of 2010, but maybe a change of coach could breathe new life into him.

Steven BAKER
10 games

A Best & Fairest winner and club and fan favourite who was quickly delisted at season’s end. It took a Twitter message for people to learn that he hadn’t retired, as Ross had said he had after the Elimination Final loss. The situation was unfairly messy way for Bakes to finish his career. Sadly, the game had passed him by in 2011, with more versatility needed from such a smaller defensive player. Towards the end of the season he was overlooked for Jarryn Geary, who came into the side as soon as possible after a leg injury in Sandringham’s season opener; it was only last year Baker came straight into the side for the Grand Final after a 12-week suspension.

Jason BLAKE
12 games, Club 2nd for average 1%ers per game with 7.2, Club 3rd for hitouts with 49

It would be great to see the lifetime St Kilda supporter play a 200th game for the club. His slow exit from the ground after the Elimination Final seemed to suggest it may have been his last game; I dare say it would have been the knowledge that games would be hard to come by for a player such as him next year. At worst, he’s a depth player and would be needed in 2012 for that at the very least. An underrated work ethic like his would be a great presence with an influx of younger players.

Paul CAHILL
0 games

St Kilda’s forward structure woes were compounded by the slow progress of players such as Cahill, who was drafted nearly three years ago now. A quad injury in the first game of the VFL season may have cost him his spot on the list. It prevented him from establishing early on a spot in Sandy’s forward line and a claim for a St Kilda debut – particularly when games were being handed out quite loosely. Some decent performances upon his return for the Zebras may have given Chris Pelchen reason to keep him on the list. However, he would need a big pre-season to put himself in a position justify that in 2012.

Cahill was the only senior-listed player drafted pre-2010 to not have debuted for the Saints by season’s end.

Raphael CLARKE
17 games, Career-high for most matches in a season

Much-maligned worst-of-the-outer fodder. However, he played genuinely good games in the back end of the season upon returning from being dropped to Sandringham, necessary in Gwilt’s absence. His running game off half-back in Round 24 highlighted what he is capable of, and I thought his performance in the Elimination Final was harshly judged – rarely did any of his teammates even attempt to break the lines and provide some sort of run coming out of defence. He may have been caught with the footy, but he was trying to provide something no-one else seemed to be willing to do.

It will be interesting to see how Pelchen and <Ross’s successor’s name> view his worth to the team, as Ross was obviously a fan of his. Raph could become a handy depth player at worst if he’s given the chance to continue his end-of-season form in 2012.

Jamie CRIPPS
4 games, 7 goals from 16 kicks, Club 2nd for average goals per game with 1.8

Instantly impressed in his debut season, but managed only a few games before breaking down with compartment syndrome. Whilst he played most of his footy last year running off half-back and through the midfield, Cripps quickly found himself at home as a pinch-hitting small forward, kicking 7.2 from 16 career kicks to date. Very fit and with huge wraps on him already from the club, he was able to return to the VFL at the end of the season and will have an entire pre-season to develop his body further (with time for that also available in his lay-off) for the rigours of AFL footy.

Sam CROCKER
0 games

Taken at pick 43 in the 2010 National Draft, a slender frame saw Crocker played in the VFL for the home-and-away season after getting game time in the NAB Cup. He underwent shoulder surgery towards the end of the season in order to be 100% for the pre-season, and likewise Cripps will have had a chance to build up his body. Able to play in the midfield and as a forward and his speed will be handy asset in the years to come.

Thomas CURREN
0 games

The rookie-listed midfielder worked hard for a decent year with Sandringham, finishing the season as a regular part of the senior side. Has a reputation as a hard worker – highlighted by The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind on his recent appearance on One Week At A Time – and is a good chance to be promoted to the senior list in the off-season.

Nick DAL SANTO
23 games, Club 1st for disposals with 615, Club 1st for average disposals per game with 26.7, Club 1st for kicks with 339, Club 1st for handballs with 277, Club 1st for contested possessions with 293, Club 1st for clearances with 124, Club 1st for goal assists with 21, Club 1st for run & bounce with 46, Career-high average tackles per game with 5.3, 14 goals

Would have to be the favourite for the 2011 Trevor Barker Award. He played every game and was rewarded with All-Australian team selection on Monday night for his efforts.

Dal was required to have a huge year after Lenny went down if the Saints were any chance of a finals berth and he exceeded all expectations, even with his already high standards. His numbers show club-high 615 disposals and an average of 26.7 disposals per game for the year, and a career-high 5.3 tackles per match reflected his increased work rate. Well and truly established himself as one of the competition’s premier midfielders.

Swans and fate sink this dynasty once and for all

It was the Swans – sporting the culture of “the Bloods” and hellbent on winning a famous premiership – that were St Kilda’s masters at the tipping point of Part One of this era.

The 2005 1st Preliminary Final had the Saints entering the match fresh from a week off after a stirring Sir Robert-inspired win in the 1st Qualifying Final over Adelaide. Having lost their Preliminary Final in 2004 by a goal to eventual premier Port Adelaide, it seemed as though it was well and truly time for this group. The rebuild and recruiting of past seasons was set to pay off.

Sydney, meanwhile, had barely scraped past Geelong in their Semi Final, with Nick Davis heroics needed to get them over the line.

History would show the Swans would start well, kicking five goals in the first quarter. The Saints would reel them in and by three-quarter time lead by seven points, though opportunities in front of goal were wasted. Lenny had a shot at goal to extend the lead beyond three goals in a game in which the Saints had to work hard for their goals, but his kick went wide and left the door open for Sydney.

The Swans’ incredible last quarter saw them kick 7.0 to 0.4 as future Saint Adam Schneider wreaked havoc in their forward line. A 31-point victory and the paving of the path to one of the great premierships was the result; “the Bloods” were now a part of football history. They would be the team that ended the longest premiership drought in VFL/AFL history. Meanwhile, Matt Maguire’s last-quarter poster and the sight of Fraser Gehrig in defence late in the match still leave a sick taste in the mouth of St Kilda fans.

The taste is sicklier now, with Sydney appropriately having repeated the dose in a similar way on Saturday night. Since that 2005 final, in the eyes the football world the Swans have been able to call on the spirit of “the Bloods” even in their leaner times; the Saints simply have been destined to fail even in their better times. Part Two of the current era – led by Ross Lyon – and the current era as a whole will now prove to have yielded no premierships for the traditionally embattled Saints. The era that promised so much found only more heartbreak, only more results and more incidents both on and off the field to strengthen St Kilda’s culture and image as “The Aints”, the club the doesn’t win premierships.

The next St Kilda premiership team – if there ever happens to be one – will not feature the likes of Lenny, Milne, Blake, Baker, and McQualter. Perhaps a couple of Roo, Kosi, BJ, Dal, Fisher, Dempster, Jones, Gilbert and Gwilt may be around to be a part of it. Otherwise, it will most probably be spearheaded by McEvoy, Steven, Ledger, Cripps, Siposs and co. if this current crop of youngsters include the keys to the elusive second premiership. It’s an inconsiderably big “if”.

Obviously, I would love the Saints to somehow find a superb balance of youth and seniority in 2012 and find themselves again in flag contention after a re-injection of enthusiasm and star players returning to full fitness. We all would. But after what’s transpired over the past decade – with all the top draft picks and opportunities on wasted on the field – that surely won’t happen. In the club’s 138 years of existence, a premiership has been won once. The stars seem to have aligned for the club in other times aside from 1966, but those false alarms are still ringing in our ears as loudly as ever after 2009 and 2010.

The nature of sport’s “there’s always next season” adage has been the succinct and clichéd way of verbalising the loyalist’s hope. Towards the end of the home-and-away season I borrowed/stole some dialogue from The Wire and wrote that “you can not lose if you do not play. Playing the game gives us hope. It’s why we’re here.” St Kilda’s fans run on hope alone because there’s nothing else to run on, but it’s a powerful, genuine thing.

The adage’s practical value also means it’s impossible to confidently say “Goodbye” to an era in one moment, to part ways with what it represented for the club and yourself. As time goes past you can put what was once your present into a proper context; you know where it led, what came of it and why. With the hope we have for every season, another lot of years may go by without our realising between now and the time St Kilda are next playing off on Grand Final Day for that second premiership. Either way, in 2012 we’ll be hoping all the same, against sound logic and reasoning, that this era isn’t quite over and that the Saints aren’t far from taking us to the promised land.

As regrettable as so much time passing is, waiting and hoping is all we can do until then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state of St Kilda’s youth

After we had a look at the eight 2011 debutants over the Round 14 bye weekend, guest writer Kieran Francis follows up with his thoughts on the entire band of St Kilda’s youth. This is an edited version of his piece, originally posted on his St Kilda FC 2011 blog. You can follow him on Twitter @kieran_francis.

Not long after the final siren sounded in the 2010 Grand Final Replay, media “experts” started commentating that the Saints may have missed their chance for a flag, and the list was going to be in a real shambles in a few years’ time.

Then there was an article from The Age‘s Michael Gleeson a week ago which quoted anonymous list managers saying that the Saints list is a “dog’s breakfast” and needed radical surgery.

Whilst I don’t think the summary by the list experts is 100% correct, we need to look at the fact that what some of what they are saying is correct and there are going to be some wholesale list changes over the next few years.

This article will feature a section on each St Kilda player under the age of 22. Tommy Walsh will be featured as a “youth” despite being out of the age criteria; I believe that his current stage of development is behing a 22 year-old.

It will chronicle the development the youth players have made, their form this year and their chance of staying on the list for next year. Other than retirements, this is where most of the list turnover will come from.

Warrick Andreoli
This talented winger from WA was selected at Pick 41 in the 2011 Rookie Draft. His biography on the St Kilda website states, “he is a speedy winger who needs to work on his endurance”.

Andreoli hasn’t set the world on fire down at Sandringham. He has played six games for Sandringham seniors and nine for the reserves. In only one of his senior games has he featured in the best players.

Question marks still hang over the endurance of Andreoli and I doubt very much whether he will be on the list next season. I don’t think he has done enough this season to show that he could be part of a future St Kilda line-up.

Daniel Archer
Archer was selected at Pick 36 in the 2010 Rookie Draft. He is a power forward who has had stints in the ruck this season.

After impressing in pre-season, Archer was promoted off the rookie list and selected for his first senior game against Richmond in Round 2 this year.

He only gathered eight touches on debut and was dropped back to Sandringham straight away.

What concerns me about Archer is his lack of maneuverability and work rate. These are the things that have jumped out at me when I’ve attended Sandringham games this year.

He doesn’t work hard enough when presenting for teammates and pressuring opponents at ground level; a lack of agility and speed is a reason for this.

Unless there is a sharp improvement in his deficiencies in the last few VFL games, I think Pelchen will move Archer on.

His development since his first senior AFL game has stunted. It’s a shame, because his future looked so promising at the start of the year.

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American Sainthood

Our second guest writer for 2011 is Marcus Wilkins, who currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana. Born in the US, he became a St Kilda supporter as a child during a year spent in Australia. Here, he writes about his life as St Kilda supporter living abroad. You can follow him on Twitter @bigfrankwhite.

All it took was a few sunny afternoons at the footy roughly 24 years ago for this impressionable seven year-old American to be hooked for life.

Well, that, and what seemed like 100 goals a game from the barrel-chested youngster they called Tony Lockett. Already fortunate enough to be living abroad for the year with my family, my luck improved dramatically when I was invited to accompany second-generation St Kilda Club members and family friends Ray and Dot Osbourne to help cheer on their beloved Saints. I’m sure they couldn’t have predicted their gesture would leave such a lasting imprint on me, but it consumed me.

Amazed by the game itself, and at this point yet unaccustomed to American football or soccer, I was instantly transfixed.  The loyal fanbase accepted me as one of their own right away, and just as quickly I inherited their passion. From that point on I was obsessed as only a kid can be.

Often wearing at least one article of my Saints uniform no matter the occasion (and frequently, as evidenced in many photos, the entire kit – down to my striped socks and even boots!), I was fairly certain I was on the extended roster somehow just awaiting my chance. I recall proudly informing anyone who asked that my plan was to return to Australia when I was 18 so I could play for the Saints – as if it were that easy.

Although the team wasn’t winning at the rate we have seen in recent seasons, I could tell I was witnessing something special, and looking back, it was the first team I had ever truly been a fan of.  My dad, on the other hand, managed to barrack for Carlton, something I still don’t fully comprehend. So fierce was my loyalty to the Saints, and wanting that particular win so bad, I can vividly remember crying my eyes out after losing to the Blues by one point – in the home and away season!

I somehow convinced Ray to let me tag along so more and more games that year, watching Lockett secure marks like only he could, Nicky Winmar shred the defenders in his path, and I had my two idols. In my head while having a kick with friends next door, or a friendly game in the park, I was always Tony or Nicky (if only I had possessed an iota of their talents).

When you’re that age – in addition to sometimes being delusional – you adapt extremely well, but it’s difficult to grasp the bigger picture at the time.

Here I was, only months removed from my life in the U.S., speaking with an Aussie accent, and simply crazy for footy, but it wasn’t permanent. I never took the time to consider how temporary it all was, and we soon had to leave to return home to the States. Unfortunately way before the possibilities the internet would eventually provide for overseas fans, I was abruptly cut off from my new love.

I had to move on, as there were no American footy clubs (there are several now, even a league), especially for kids. I played and enjoyed baseball and soccer mostly growing up in the States, not big or strong enough to be competitive in American football or basketball, but I never really had the passion for these sports I now know I did have for Aussie Rules.

Years later, after finally reconnecting with the game, I had to catch up with my favorite team and research several lost seasons.

I had to re-learn our roster, taking into account that I had missed out on alot – all or most of the careers of St Kilda greats such as Peter Everitt, Fraser Gehrig and others. Stewart Loewe was a promising 19 year-old the last I laid eyes on him, and little did I know he’d go on to play 300 more games for us. I missed the signature moment of Winmar’s career, when he made his courageous stand against the ugliness of racial abuse.

One event I can say without a doubt I’m glad I couldn’t be a part of was letting Plugger go to Sydney, as it would have crushed me. I did, however, almost tear up when I read that he had gone on to become the VFL/AFL all-time goals leader, although I still have a difficult time seeing him in a Swans’ guernsey (I know I can’t be alone there, Saints fans).

When you’re able to rekindle the flames of a lost love, you don’t take anything for granted. If anything, I feel my renewed passion for the sport and especially the St Kilda Club has emerged stronger than even before, finally able to appreciate the gift I was given at such a young age.

Being an American footy fanatic is no easy undertaking. One of the main issues I have is not being able to talk to my peers about what’s happening in the sport. I have tried to convince several of my friends of its superiority to its American counterpart (which is still an ongoing hobby of mine), but I can tell they’re almost always just patronizing me by even listening to the rules. By the third or fourth time I have to explain how to read a final score in footy, my frustration usually boils over and I realize they don’t care.

So I turn to the internet, and what a savior it has been. I’m an avid fantasy sports participant, and while fantasy football (NFL) and baseball rule the roost in popularity over here, I spend easily as much time on my Dream Team (side note: time spent on the team DOES NOT equal success, as evidenced by my embarassing overall ranking, a fact that bothers me to no end but that I dismiss by repeatedly reminding myself I’m at a severe disadvantage by not living in Australia!).

With the onset of social media, Twitter in particular, I was able to broaden my connections with footy and the Saints immensely.  Following the club, players, fans like myself, and discovering great blog sites like this one have helped me tremendously as I still cannot seem to get enough St Kilda and AFL news. I find it absolutely surreal that I get to see what Nick Winmar has to say on a daily basis, and little by little it helps lessen the pain of not being part of the game in person.

Perhaps the biggest and most obvious hurdle for an overseas fan is sheer distance from the game, and Australia in general. I live in Indianapolis, Indiana, a few hours south of Chicago, and we’re in the U.S. eastern standard time zone.  This just happens to be 14 hours behind that of Melbourne’s, which can present quite a unique set of challenges for someone who requires seeing their team play LIVE.

I’m sure any Aussies who follow American sports can empathize with me. When the ball is bounced at the MCG for a Saints game on Friday Night Football at 7:40pm local time, here its 5:40am Thursday night (I know, technically it’s Friday morning). Traditionally not an hour associated with settling in to watch your favorite team play, but at least in this household, I’m almost always tuned in and fired-up for the match!

Another issue is the availability of games to watch. This has been easily my most frustrating hurdle, as I’m completely at the mercy of the braodcast schedule. The only free site streaming LIVE AFL games I’ve found is ESPN3.com, and while I certainly appreciate each and every chance I get to watch the red, white and black, I’m often left out in favor of a different match-up.

The ESPN3 schedule does a fantastic job of spreading the wealth around between teams, but that’s a blessing and a curse. The schedule consists of three games most weeks, one game each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They show almost all the Friday night games since it’s the only AFL game being played that night, and then only one game the other two days. While I can appreciate seeing your run-of-the-mill Hawks vs. Pies match on a Saturday, I get really annoyed not being able to watch MY team, and even more so when it ends up being Demons vs. Crows.

Not surprisingly I’ve done the math (really) and I have figured that at least this season I get to catch roughly one in three Saints games.  Not too bad relative to never seeing any at all but a far cry from ideal, and at my level of fanatacism, borderline unacceptable.

For the games I’m unable to see online, I’ve found the AFL.com.au Match Centre extremely helpful. Not only do they have a range of stats to look at during the matches, but they offer sometimes up to three or four radio feeds (SEN, Triple M, etc.) which are invaluable when I can’t watch. These early mornings are where I have to laugh at myself and my level of obsession, alarm going off at 5:30am, and sitting at my laptop, trying to stay awake LISTENING to a RADIO FEED broadcasting my Saints match!

I hope by reading this maybe the next time you see BJ, Nicky Dal, Rooey, Bakes, Fish, Milney, Joey and the rest of the boys doing their thing in person, you can yell a little louder or wave that flag a little higher for those of us unable to be there, if only in spirit.

I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to Ray and Dot Osbourne for giving me this gift, and sharing their devotion to the greatest football club on Earth. Thanks also to anyone reading this and especially my new friends at RedWhiteandBlack.com.au for affording me this opportunity to tell my story.

GO SAINTS!



Photos courtesy of Marcus Wilkins. All were taken in 1987.
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