As the camera focused on the Geelong coaching box following their 21-point victory over St Kilda, Brian Taylor proudly announced that Chris Scott would be “delighted that (Geelong) had consolidated” a spot in the top eight.

In reality, Scott looked as though he’d just heard that someone shot his dog. He looked perplexed by what he’d just seen. It wasn’t joy. It wasn’t relief. It was like a numbness, and it was a feeling that any neutral fan watching the game would have shared. A game that promised so much delivered so little, with St Kilda unable to capitalise on their first quarter dominance and Geelong following the script perfectly, hitting the scoreboard hard to start the last quarter to make the Saints rue their wayward kicking for goal.

I’d like to say the Cats defence were the stars, but really, it was the St Kilda goal kickers that made it seem that way.

I’d like to say it was the pressure of the Saints that caused the Cats so much trouble over the first three quarters, but they failed to make the most of their opportunities, so their hard work amounted to nothing.

I’d like to say it was a game filled with highlights and a showcase for the game, but I’d be lying.

Yes, Chris Scott’s blank expression spoke volumes about his team’s performance, the performance of their opponents and the game as a whole. It was nothing to get overly excited about, and in the end, the Cats did what they had to do. The Saints resumed normal transmission and continued to disappoint their supporters, and we move onto bigger and better things, at least for one team.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

So, I doubt I’ll be getting any new members with an intro like that, but really, I have too much respect for the people who read my work to try to sell you on something that was not actually there. The AFL website used the word “electric” when describing this game. The only thing I could relate to that comment was that, at times, I felt like I would rather be electrocuted than watch it. I was waiting for something to happen. Waiting for someone to take over. Waiting for the game as a whole to lift a notch or three.

And it finally did – for five minutes. It was enough for the Cats to kick three goals and put the Saints out of their own wayward misery. Now, let’s get into it.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE FOUR QUARTER WORKERS

You have to admire the work ethic of Mitch Duncan and Cam Guthrie.

Whilst other players zipped in and out of the game, flashing in for a couple of touches here or there, like Joe Ganino at a crowded Boxing Day lingerie sale, these two blokes just worked tirelessly all day.

It was heartening to hear the pre-game praise for Duncan, who has been sublime at times this season, lacing out his teammates to afford them shots at goal and making kicks other players only think about attempting.

His disposal was solid again in this one, as he ran into position across half back, simply outworking his opponent with second and third efforts to create space. He finished with 30 touches, including 12 in the third quarter, as the Cats started to get the game on their terms.

Guthrie had one moment he would like to forget when he tried to pinpoint a pass to his brother in the third term, and allowed the Saints in. Cam missed his target and Jack Steele was able to swoop in and make him pay on the scoreboard.

Within minutes, Guthrie had made things right, running hard to get to the fall of the ball inside fifty, receiving a handball from the ever-unselfish Tom Hawkins, and finishing with a goal to undo his mistake at the other end.

The fact that we are talking about his mistake at one end of the ground and his compensation at the other should give an indication into the work ethic of Cam Guthrie. He has fashioned himself as a fantastic inside/outside player and had collected 30+ touches in the last four outings. I’m not too sure how I feel about his waxing with his brother… I mean, they’re not the Krakouer Brothers by any stretch, but Cam has paid his dues for several years in the Cats’ system and is now reaping the rewards.

 

THE PRESSURE

Hats off to the Saints in this regard – they knew what they had to do, they knew what they had to bring to the table and they did it.

And it almost worked…

Geelong looked like a team waiting for things to happen in the first half. They were waiting for their kick/mark game to kick into gear. They were waiting for a big forward to take some marks and convert, and they were waiting for their normally stingy defence to lock down the Saints forwards and open up the game from half back.

But St Kilda would not permit them to do that. The Saints swarmed the Cats as they attempted to set up from defence. There were no easy disposals as the boys from Moorabbin threw everything they had, defensively, at Geelong, forcing them into rushed, hack kicks from defensive fifty, and hurried forward entries when someone was able to break the lines.

It was impressive from the Saints, who came into this game as underdogs and knew they had to his the Cats hard and often to make a big statement. Jack Steele, ever reliably had eleven tackles, but Josh Battle and Brad Crouch with nine apiece, and Hunter Clark with eight made up the four best pressure players on the park. The only downside of the pressure in the first half, other than the obvious scoreboard issues, was the Saints often spoling each other in marking contests in their manic attack on the footy.

It was all going swimmingly, with the Saints forcing the Cats into turnovers and creating stoppages where Geelong would normally clear the footy. Yes, it was great…

… only they didn’t convert, and that led us to…

 

THE FIVE MINUTE BLITZ

With the Saints failing at the most important hurdle – putting goals on the board – it was up to Geelong to show them how it was done, and in one five minute period, the Cats went from a five-point deficit to a 17 point lead.

The Saints would try hard to bridge the gap – a goal to Tim Membrey out the back after a nice Max King mark and quick forward fifty entry reduced the margin, but a steadying goal from Tom Hawkins ruined any chance of a St Kilda comeback.

Geelong played good footy when it counted. In a dour struggle, it took just five minutes of power football to place enough distance between the two teams to give the Cats their sixth win of the season. With stars not performing to expectations and a St Kilda team bringing the heat, the Cats did enough when it counted, and the Saints dropped the ball for just long enough for Geelong to pounce.

 

STEWY

Once again, I find myself writing about Tom Stewart. He might be my favourite Geelong player at the moment. Oops, Joel Selwood is still playing – Stewart would be my second favourite.

If I gave you a pen and paper and asked you to write down every aspect of a rebounding half back that you would like in a player, chances are you would look at Stewart’s game and jot down what he does so well. I know I would.

Just one of his 23 touches failed to hit the mark as he was once again calm, cool, and collected working across half back. He made a vital spoil that will probably go unnoticed in the last quarter, cutting off a chance for Jack Higgins to hit the scoreboard and continued on his merry way in 2021

Earlier this week, Mrs Mongrel and I jumped on our podcast (if you don’t listen, we’re not friends) and listed our All-Australian selection as we ticked over a third of the season. I could not have left Stewart out – he has picked up where he left off in 2019 and I fully expect, health permitting, that he will once again occupy a half back flank in this season’s AA team.

Last year, an injury for a couple of weeks probably cost him three AA selections in a row, but three out of four ain’t bad, and he is well on the way to accomplishing that feat.

 

GRYAN WHO?

I kind of hope I am not the only who thinks Brad Close was vital to the Cats in this game, because I have been known to make an idiot of myself when writing about footy, and I probably will again. I am going to go with my gut on this one and say that he was the best small forward on the park and did some very important things for the Cats.

He looked dangerous both with and without the footy in this one, whether he was passing to Hawkins, contesting in the air, or chasing down defenders to lay tackles. His rundown on Dougal Howard in the last quarter, causing a deliberate out of bounds free kick, was vintage small forward pressure, and in a forward line stacked with talent, it was the pace and willingness to chase and apply pressure that made Close standout in a game where Jeremy Cameron didn’t look like it, and Gary Rohan struggled to get into until after half time.

Close may only be keeping the position warm for Gryan Miers, but he did himself no disservice with his attack on the footy in this one. Another game like this, and Miers may have to earn his spot back in the side the hard way – through the seconds.

 

THE NON-WINGMEN

It was interesting to see neither Isaac Smith or Brad Hill play on the wing in this game, but in a nice twist, the former Hawks played the entire first quarter and plenty of the second directly opposed to each other.

Smith got away early, and looked like the only threatening Cat at times, whereas Hill was a much slower burn. Deployed across half forward, Smith was constantly on the move, working way back down into defence at times to provide that running wave of momentum forward for the Cats. Hill seemed more content to run through half back and into the middle, his disposal by foot a St Kilda highlight in the first.

As the game progressed, Smith and Mitch Duncan both took turns in lining up on Hill, with the other being looked after by either Hunter Clark or Jack Sinclair, which made it difficult to gauge just how well they were going against Hill, who stuck to his guns at half back with a rotating cast of opponents standing next to him.

Smith got off the chain in the first, with 11 of his 17 touches, but he was also able to spot up targets well as the game ticked into red time in the last. He is proving to be the most consistent of the Geelong recruits this season, with Shaun Higgins looking as though he needs to find his place in this Cats team, taking that extra second or two here or there, which at this level, gets you caught with the footy. He appeared very rushed at times, and the touch just wasn’t there for him, particularly under the St Kilda pressure in the first half.

Smith, however, a three-time premiership player, seemed to be one of the few Cats unfazed by the Saints’ furious assault, playing his natural game and outrunning whoever was foolish enough to oppose him.

 

UNSUNG

I’m guessing there’ll be a few people counting Zach Tuohy as one of their best for this game, but I want to single out another bloke who was really solid in defence.

Whilst Tuohy’s 31 touches is a statistical head-turner, employing the Jack Ziebell rule (used in our Defensive Player of the Year award) to take into account the number of kick ins a player takes, Tom Atkins was actually a more prolific defender in this one.

Yes, Tuohy was the one racing back to break up the Max King fumble-fest in the third quarter, but Atkins was doing the hard yards all game in the back half, and my bet is that he’ll hardly rate a mention.

Check out the work of the St Kilda small forwards. Jack Higgins… Jack Lonie… Dan Butler… they did bugger all, and you can thank the efforts of Tom Atkins on multiple occasions for making that so. He doesn’t catch the eye unless you’re looking for his dour defensive work, but he was huge in this game in ways people don’t even know.

Great game, Tom.

 

THE BAD

 

THE ACTION THAT SAYS “I DON’T GIVE A SHIT”

Yes, the game was winding down. Yes, it didn’t really matter if Dan Butler collected the footy and took a tackle inside 50 to create a stoppage.

But it did, kind of.

Instead of throwing a foot at the ball and trying to kick a goal out of mid air, how about Dan Butler does the team thing, takes possession and takes the ensuing heat, because, you know… he is a professional footballer and doing that sort of stuff is expected of him?

In his defence, Butler was one of the better pressure players early in the game, bringing his own heat inside 50 and causing a bit of panic amongst the Geelong defenders and their mids back to help out. He chased, tackled and harassed, but his effort in the last quarter, where he may have been able to handball off to someone, or draw a free kick had he taken possession, was lucklustre.

Maybe it was the action of a frustrated man? Maybe he had tried his guts out all day and just thought “screw it, I’m trying something miraculous,” but what does that say about him? What does it say about where his mind is at? It was the action of someone who had well and truly checked out for the evening, and at the highest level, which this game was apparently supposed to represent, that sort of stuff is just not good enough.

 

THE BIG FELLA HURT AGAIN

With Rowan Marshall limping around after half time, St Kilda fans would have been well within their rights to throw the towel in and pull the plug on this season.

Marshall was a monster up forward for the Saints early on, not only taking contested grabs (three up until half time) but drawing the heat from the opposition to allow Max King to fly for the footy with a clean run at it on several occasions. His tandem in the ruck with Paddy Ryder is an integral part of the St Kilda structure, and his start to the 2021 season was plagued with stress-related issues in his foot.

And they flared up in a big way in this one.

Marshall looked hobbled as he was subbed out of the game early in the third quarter, and you’d expect him to miss several weeks as the Saints get him right before throwing him back into the action. He has displayed such a great combination of finesse and power over his short career that to see him laid low by such an insidious injury was genuinely upsetting. He has looked to me as a player with the potential to be a top-three ruck in the league, but this type of injury, carrying a body as big as his around the park… you just don’t know how bad it could be.

My fingers are crossed for the big fella. I hope that he is able to rest it, get it right and return to be the player the Saints need (and they DO need him, desperately), but seeing how proppy he was as he wandered around, you have to wonder how long this is going to a) kep troubling him, and b) keep him out of action.

I’m putting it out there – the Saints are going nowhere fast without their young big man in the team. He looked like the ruckman of the future last season, but what they really need is the ruckman of right now.

 

THE UGLY

 

MAX KING AND FRIENDS

There was a big headline on the AFL website, or some other shitty website this afternoon, and it was all about how the Saints are preparing a big money offer for Max King that will secure his future with the Saints.

Well, maybe they should shave a few bucks off the going rate for King because I expect that kicking goals is going to be a big part of what is expected of him, and he was atrocious at it in this game.

St Kilda needed someone to step up and take this game by the throat. I may be being harsh on King here, as blokes like Membrey, Lonie and Butler added to the Saints’ early woes, but as the game progressed, King seemed to fall into the trap of overthinking things, and it was apparent in his game.

Not only did he miss just about everything that even closely resembled a shot at goal, but there was also an instance where he dropped an overhead uncontested mark at half forward, as well – bread and butter stuff for someone of his ability. He looked like a player who was playing the game inside his own head, and losing pretty convincingly. With his teammates applying pressure all over the park and, to their absolute credit, forcing Geelong into their shell for the first three quarters, the work of King in front of goal let his teammates down.

He pulled in ten marks for the game and had six disposals inside 50 from six marks, yet contributed 1.5.

It was the sort of effort that would make a teammate drop his head and think “what’s the use?”

The potential for King to be a star is evident. He has great hands (normally), is athletic and takes grabs in the toughest part of the ground to do so, but if you’re gonna kick like a mule (and look a bit like a horse), then maybe being paid top dollar shouldn’t be on the table. He had plenty of mates in this one, but when it came to spraying shots at goal, he was the main culprit.

Oh, and if that’s not enough for you, his butter-fingers effort to pick up the loose ball inside 50 in the third term… costly under 12s stuff. The team kicked five goals, King missed five and cocked up what looked to be a certain goal for no score. Ouch.

 

 

EXCUSES

Are you one of “those” people?

You know the sort… the excuse-makers, the near-enough-is-good-enough people, the ones who will sit back and say “oh, but I am okay with it because the effort is there?

Is that you?

Is that someone you know?

St Kilda fans, I am sorry to do this to you, but if that is what you’re saying or what you’re hearing, stop and think about it. What great side has ever been content with losing but just trying really hard?

Can you think of any? I sure as hell can’t.

The club should be seething at the missed opportunity this clash afforded them. They should be scathing in their assessment of the performance where they did so much right and so much wrong simultaneously. This was a team eyeing off a top four spot this season, and quite capable of achieving it.

And now, we’re gonna clap hands for the Saints because they tried really hard?

In the words of the immortal Gorilla Monsoon… gimme a break!

This was a winnable game. This was a game that should have been put to bed by the end of the first quarter. Sitting back, looking at the effort and saying “but the pressure was good” is a cop out, and if you’re happy with that as the takeaway from this game, then you deserve the position you’re in.

I’m sorry, but what I saw was simply not good enough and in a cut-throat competition, being satisfied with an outcome like that is acceptance of mediocrity. Once you accept it, it becomes who you are.

And my guess is that you want this club to be better than mediocre, right?

So, commend the pressure all you like. Highlight instances where you won a battle if it makes you feel better. You’re giving a team capable of so much more an out they do not deserve.

You lost the war in this one, and there are some that are content with it. That’s as ugly as it gets.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

COULD CHRIS SCOTT BE HAPPY WITH THAT RESULT?

Relieved, I think. Not happy… just relieved.

His team did not play good football. They were stifled and beaten for clearances. But for poor kicking, they would have been dispensed with early in the game. To their credit, they hung in there, but he would hardly be instilled with confidence in this performance.

I suppose good teams win ugly, and it doesn’t get much uglier than this one, but yes… Mr Scott would take a deep breath this evening and just be glad that one is over. Four points banked and no major injuries.

 

WHERE DO THE SAINTS GO FROM HERE?

They’re 4-5, with the Dogs looming in a game that will either revitalise their season, or see it dead in the water by before the halfway point of the year.

This is not the season the Saints were expecting.

4-6 is a hill that will take some climbing. If they can bring the same pressure to the Dogs as they did Geelong, they have a real chance to sit at 5-5 after ten games. If they cannot pull that off, not only will they struggle to make finals, they probably don’t deserve to. This is what happens when you paint yourself into a corner early in the season.

 

WHY CAN’T BT PRONOUNCE “MENEGOLA”?

I’m buggered if I know, and worse, his idiotic pronunciation has rubbed off on Luke Hodge, who is also adding an extra ‘N’ to the Geelong wingman’s name. You would think in a profession where your sole job is to talk about the players and the game, you could get the bloke’s name right, wouldn’t you?

But no… not BT. He doesn’t have to do that. That would take some effort.

To his credit, James Brayshaw used to do the same, but someone must have whispered in his ear and he quickly corrected that habit and now gets it right all the time. That’s what a professional does.

To continually get a bloke’s name wrong is not only unprofessional, but disrespectful to Menegola and his family. Luke Hodge may have been negatively influenced by BT and should make a note to start pronouncing it correctly, but Taylor has had years in the chair commentating this player and comes across as someone who simply can’t be arsed.

He shall now be known as Brinan Taynlor.

 

HOW DID JAMES FRAWLEY GO?

It was a little difficult to gauge, as the Saints switched a hell of a lot, leaving Frawley on the deepest forward as often as they could. This meant that on the lead, it was Dougal Howard contesting with Tom Hawkins, whilst Frawley dropped back to 10-15 metres out to protect the dangerous space.

He didn’t do much wrong, but the Cats did exploit his lack of leg speed and match fitness by forcing whomever was on him to lead and create a bit of chaos. It started to work later in the game as well, as the help defnece suddenly started to become tired, and that leads to them being less helpful.

 

WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE UMPIRING?

Look, I have no idea, but it was a source of frustration for me – I can only imagine how infuriating it had to be for supporters of either side.

Deliberate out of bounds calls, holding/dropping the ball permitted multiple times and then occasionally called… the umps seemed determined to ensure the game kept flowing – they called no throws, even though there were plenty, and at times the holding the ball decisions were so obvious, I half expected the captains to get together and back to the early 1900s rules, allowing them to call the free kicks.

I’m sure supporters of both teams felt hard done by at points, but I’m okay stating that it was just a bad night for the umps, irrespective of which team you follow.

 

OTHER BITS

 

I liked the game of Seb Ross. Workmanlike and clean by both hand and foot. I am not sure his disposals hurt too much, but he is a valuable link man.

Jack Sinclair had some good moments as well, after being split open undertge eye in the first quarter.

The Cats get the Suns at Kardinia Park next week, so could very well be pushing for a top four berth after Round Ten. That is bloody impressive considering how they started the season. They have arguably their best player to come back in a few weeks, as well as Gryan Miers up forward and Jake Kolodjashnij down back. Plenty of improvement in this team.

That double crunch from Jack Henry and Lachie Henderson on Jack Lonie in the middle… that could have been really nasty, and credit to Lonie for getting up and continuing to play.

Brad Crouch going off for a concussion test and having to sit for 20 minutes… I felt it kind of halted the Saints’ rhythm a bit, and it took them a while to adjust. He was tackling so well, and paired with Jack Steele, they were getting their hands on plenty of the footy in the guts. With Marshall already off, Crouch’s absence was keenly felt.

 

I can’t believe I’ve written 4K words about this game, particularly as (I’m sure you’re aware) I didn’t like it too much. Still, four points are four points, and the Cats now find themselves right in the mix. You’ll take that win, even if it is ugly.

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