Will the real St Kilda Football Club please stand up?
Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen a team wearing red, white and black trot out some pretty ordinary performances, falling from the top four to a position outside the eight and looking like a club that was destined to miss September.
And then… this happened.
Overcoming a pretty bloody solid Carlton side, the Saints have thrust their name back into the mix as potential finalists, and they did it with a tough, grinding win against a fellow contender.
They lost Dougal Howard with a knee injury, had poor bloody Hunter Clark cop another head injury, and had to endure the majority of the last quarter without their ruckman, Rowan Marshall, but the Saints did what many thought they could not – they won despite adversity.
The Blues had their chances but failed to convert their opportunities in the third quarter. They left the door open and the Saints stormed on through, kicking the last three goals of the term to establish what would end up being a match-winning lead.
Plenty to get through in this one. Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.
WAS IT A MISTAKE PLAYING SAM WALSH ON BRAD HILL IN THE FIRST QUARTER?
If he had his time over again, I am not sure that Michael Voss would have pulled that string early in the game. Looking at the Walsh v Hill matchup on paper, you could see what he was trying to do, right?
Carlton are stacked for midfield talent – almost Western Bulldogs-levels of talent runs through their on-ball division. They could afford to run Walsh off the back of the square with the intention of bringing him up around the ball, which would hopefully drag Brad Hill into areas he didn’t want to be in, right?
I mean, who would want Sam Walsh running around without an opponent?
But it did not quite work out that way. Walsh is a ball-winner, not a stopper. And once the ball was in his sights, the whereabouts of Brad Hill was not his concern. That is all well and good if Carlton were going to win every loose ball and every stoppage… but they were a long way from doing that, and it was Hill, playing a couple of possessions away from the contest, that was able to find plenty of the footy and punish the Blues by foot. Walsh may have had just as many touches as Hill (nine), but the disposals from Hill were hurting, as every one of kicks hit the mark, and his run and carry pumped the Saints forward.
At quarter time, Voss had seen enough and sent Matt Cottrell to Hill, who wasted no time reminding the former Docker that he doesn’t particularly like it when there is body contact involved in his possessions. Cottrell quickly put a stop to the rot, beating Hill in several one-on-one encounters and forcing Hill to start looking for shorter targets when he did collect the footy.
I know the majority of people reading this will be Saints fans, and thus, I understand that some of you may feel the need to stick up for Hill – I get it, you get defensive about your boys, but the way Hill plays can be either a huge advantage if he is permitted time and space, or a massive liability if he is made accountable. In a home and away game in July, the Blues opted to try something different against him and it didn’t work, but the way a more traditional setup was able to limit him is of concern.
In the finals (yes, we’re using the f-word again now), if you were coaching against St Kilda, how would you play Brad Hill?
I think we all know how you’d do it. Same as I would, and the same as Michael Voss did in the second quarter. Hill needs to be better when the attention comes and at least break even in contests. They should not all be automatic losses just because someone else is in the vicinity.
CAN WE NOW LOCK JACK SINCLAIR IN AS ALL-AUSTRALIAN?
As we end the Brad Hill discussion, we move to the other defensive runner – what a game for Jack Sinclair!
I had an interesting chat with a few Geelong supporters the other day, who were of the opinion that Tom Stewart’s four-week ban was not enough to prevent him from keeping his position in the AA team this season. Their argument was that 18 games from Stewart were better than 22 from some of the other contenders.
I had to disagree.
You see, Stewart also missed a game earlier in the season, so all of a sudden, that is 17 games. He was also subbed off in the first quarter right before the bye due to concussion protocols. So, that makes it 16 games, at most.
Meanwhile, you have blokes like James Sicily, Sam Docherty, and yes… Jack Sinclair out there every single week busting their asses for their teams. I’m of the opinion you reward that – these blokes are not out here keeping a spot on the team warm until Stewart serves his penance.
Sinclair was a monster in this one, and despite a couple of moments where bit off a bit more than he could chew on some inboard kicks, but for the most part, his intercept and rebound work was first class.
Running at 89% efficiency for his 37 touches, Sinclair was wonderful in the first quarter with 13 touches, and continued to be a thorn in the Carlton side as he picked up the slack when the brakes were put on Brad Hill after the first quarter.
Right now, Jack Sinclair has a mortgage on a spot in the All-Australian team. His confidence has shot through the roof this season, and you could tell that he definitely believes in both his team and himself with the way he reassured Brett Ratten on the bench at one stage. His body language said it all – “Don’t worry coach… I’ve got this. WE’VE got this.”
And they did.
IS THIS THE VERSION OF ROWAN MARSHALL WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR?
Marshall looked and played like a beast in this game, handling the young Carlton ruckman around the ground to finish with 22 touches and 12 marks to go with his ten hit outs… huh? Just ten hit outs?
Yes, the art of the hit out is the domain of Paddy Ryder, as the two-headed St Kilda ruck monster worked to a tee in this one. Marshall started forward, stretching the undersized Carlton defence, and forcing Tom De Koning to get back deep into defence to help Lewis Young and Brodie Kemp. This allowed whichever of the Marshall/Ryder combination playing further afield to fly at everything. Marshall, in particular, was clunking them.
He finished with four contested marks from his 12 grabs, and also notched four “Get out of Jail” marks as the release target for the St Kilda defenders.
As Marshall did his work in marking contests, Ryder gave his mids first use at stoppages, with the Saints one of the few teams possession the strength in the midfield to match it with the Blues.
Carlton did what they could, with excellent contributions from their “big four” clearance players, in Cripps (8), Hewett (8), Walsh (6), and Kennedy (5), yet the Saints won the overall clearance battle, with more hands making less work. St Kilda’s 36-31 clearance advantage was vital in not only giving their forwards a look at clean footy coming in, but also enabled them to stifle the Carlton run out of the middle that has been such a winner for them this season.
DID THE BLUES COST THEMSELVES THIS GAME WITH POOR KICKING?
In a nutshell, yes they did.
A plethora of missed shots at goal from 15 marks inside 50 tells a story the Blues would not like to repeat. Their third quarter saw them return just 1.6 as they continually missed the target like a drunk man at a urinal.
And as seems to happen so often, when the Blues squandered their opportunities, the Saints made them pay.
After having the majority of the play in their forward half in the third, Carlton watched on as the Saints slammed through three quick goals to steal momentum and give them the break.
Bad kicking is bad footy – we’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again, but it was quite apt in describing the Blues’ game.
IS BRAD CROUCH ONE OF THE MORE UNDERRATED DEFENSIVE MIDS IN THE GAME?
Absolutely, he is.
Though much of the attention goes on the tackling exploits of Jack Steele, the work of Crouch this season has been excellent when it comes to limiting his opponents. He had 11 tackles in this game – a season high, and the third time in the past five games that he has had nine or more drag downs.
Though it did not occur in this game, Crouch is one of the few defensive mids that actually wins holding the ball free kicks for his tackling efforts. I’m going off on a tangent, here – bear with me. This is the one area we see him do what Steele does not. From Round Five onwards, Steele has been rewarded just once for holding the ball.
One free kick… from 49 tackles laid.
Can you believe that?
Crouch is more inclined to extract the free kicks, and whilst that does not make him a better tackler, it makes him a more effective one, depending on your assessment of what a successful tackle is.
Anyway, Crouch combined with Steele to put the heat on at the centre bounces in this one. As mentioned above, there were no easy exits for the Blues, who were often forced to go backwards and sideways to extract the footy. Sam Walsh, in particular, was often forced to dish off backwards to avoid the incoming pressure from the St Kilda midfield, robbing the Blues of their best midfield kick hitting long targets.
When you watch the replay, as I know you will, you desperados, watch how determined and dogged Crouch is in at the centre stoppages. He was simply not going to allow easy passage in this one, and it was a big factor in the Saints getting home.
WAS IT THE RIGHT MOVE TO USE MAX KING TO DRAW THE DEFENCE AND OPEN UP THE FORWARD FIFTY FOR OTHERS?
I’ll phrase this differently, as it is easy to dismiss things when you win.
Had the Saints lost this game, would you be as glowing with the praise for the tactic of using your best marking target as a decoy?
During the week, I had a read of the minefield that is the former St Kilda coach, Grant Thomas’ Twitter timeline – are you familiar with this? At times it can be funny, and at others, it can get a little heated, but for the most part, I find Thommo as someone who speaks his mind and genuinely seems to have a soft spot for St Kilda.
Anyway, one of the topics that came up as he verbally jousted with some bloke was the body language of Max King and whether or not it indicated he was in it for the team, or for himself? Thomas intimated that King’s demeanour toward teammates was hostile when something didn’t go his way, and that he moped about even when the team was winning and things were working. I found it to be an interesting point of discussion and it led me to watch King very closely in this game.
Part of me wonders whether King had the comments passed on to him?
I state that because he sacrificed for the team in this game. Sitting single digits away from the lead in the race for the Coleman, and aware the bloke at the other end wasn’t having a great night, you could expect a full forward to want every ball heading inside 50 to be kicked in his direction. But the Saints used King and his key-forward-gravity to draw opponents to him and open up space for others. As a result, we saw Tim Membrey, Jack Higgins, and Dan Butler all able to run into space inside 50 whilst King took the attention of two or three defenders and midfield help-defenders out wide.
In a game where you thought the St Kilda coaching staff would have liked to exploit the lack of established key defenders in the Carlton team, Brett Ratten zigged when the Blues expected him to zag.
As a result, as we ended the first half, it was Membrey, Higgins, Ruder, and Butler doing the scoreboard damage.
So, it worked, everyone is all smiles, and Max King says “shove that up ya bum, Thommo!”
And you know what – I haven’t looked yet, but I reckon Thommo would cop that one on the chin. Or up the bum, if you prefer.
HOW BLOODY GOOD IS CAL WILKIE?
You know, there was a point a couple of years back when I decided to throw together the “All-Underrated” team. That was an exercise in futility – imagine being so underrated that you don’t even make the All-Underrated team? Well, that’s where Cal Wilkie found himself, and man, the Saints fans let me know all about it.
Mind you, many of them told me that Hunter Clark was an A-Grader at the time, so I did take their comments with a tablespoon of salt.
Nonetheless, their comments and insistence that I watch Wilkie more closely were taken onboard, and I have never disregarded him since that day.
He was handed the unenviable job of curtailing the influence of Charlie Curnow in this one – a job only very few have completed successfully this season. I guess we can now add Wilkie’s name to the list.
Wilkie played Curnow tight. That, in itself, led to a couple of free kicks coming Curnow’s way, but the defender gave the Coleman leader no space to operate at ground level, and constantly kept touch on him after being burnt by an early Curnow run and jump at the footy that was largely unimpeded. That resulted in a goal, and from that point, Wilkie refused to be more than an arm’s length away.
Some may argue that Charlie’s return of 1.4 made Wilkie look better than he was, and I understand that point – if Curnow kicks four, we probably don’t praise Wilkie as much as we are currently, but you know what? He didn’t, and in one-on-one contests, I loved the fact that the Saint took Curnow on and made him earn everything.
HOW UNLUCKY IS HUNTER CLARK?
Word is that he had a compound fracture of the nose.
Ouch… if you’ve ever had a broken nose, or a compound fracture, your eyes would be watering at that description. Me… I have had one compound fracture – “it’s only a finger,” my coach said – “you’ve got nine more. Tape it up.”
I’m glad they make junior coaches get accreditation these days, but man, kids are missing some weird shit from coaches as a result. And there have been a few broken noses along the way, too, but imagine reaching up after a big knock and feeling the bone sticking out of the skin on your nose? I’m shaking my head as I write this…
Clark has had such a horrid run with head injuries over the last couple of seasons. There is no question that this has stunted his development as a player, and we can only hope that he is able to shake this one off, all is well, and he gets back on the park sooner rather than later.
A compound fracture of the nose… I am resisting doing a google search to check out how it would look.
ANY OTHER BITS, YOU RAMBLING IDIOT?
Yep – thought Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera had some really important wins in the air early in the game. Great to see him attack the ball in flight and leave his opponent to worry about the “what ifs” while he was making an impact. I like the confidence he is developing and the wing looks like the right spot for him at the moment.
Adam Cerra stunk it up in this game. Maybe the Blues brought him back a week too early? He was fumbly, could not glove the footy even if he had a pair of electrified gloving gloves, and did not get a run in the middle, forced out to the wing, where he looked very out of place for someone who spent a fair whack of time playing the role at Freo.
There was a shot from behind of Josh Battle standing next to Harry McKay at one stage late in the game – McKay is just a beast, and it was only when Dougal Howard limped off, you start to realise just how ridiculously difficult it would be find the right matchup for him.
McKay, as he seems to do, started to heat up late in the game, with three contested grabs in the last quarter and Josh Battle was forced to rely on the sheer weight of numbers inside defensive fifty to give him a fighting chance at stopping the big fella.
Again, I ask what I have asked several times this season – how good could Harry be if he played a full four-quarter contest?
People, that might just about do me. It’s late, I’m tired, and St Kilda fans have some reading to do in the morning to point out my many inaccuracies. You know that’s the best way to get engagement, right? Get something wrong… everyone comments.
St Kilda get Freo at Marvel next week… wowzas! That should be a cracker. And Carlton face a rejuvenated West Coast at Optus Stadium. Tell me you’re not just a little nervous about that one, Blues fans?
Massive thanks to our wonderful members for supporting our work. Without you, there is no us. Cheers – HB