St Kilda v West Coast – The Mongrel Review

Sometimes I do not know why I do the things I do. Somewhere between Katniss Everdeen and Masochistic self-flagellation, I volunteered to watch and write this game largely because no one else wanted to. The Eagles are one of the football teams in the AFL, and the Saints love a bit of self-sabotage, losing three of their last four games against teams they probably could have beaten in Hawthorn and Richmond.

The Eagles would have been buoyed with the return of Cripps and Hurn, but managed to still lose Pretevski-Seton and Yeo during the week. About an hour before the game, they also lost Tim Kelly and Luke Edwards, allowing Xavier O’Neill to come in. How would they manage without Tim Kelly?

Well, the idiot writer of this article (yours truly) decided that, given the probable results, there wouldn’t be much to write about, and it would be best to pre-draft a few generic paragraphs about the Eagles in general and then put those in context with the specifics of the game. Otherwise, what else would I write about that hasn’t been written? Let’s face it: there’s not much to learn from a team who wins by 15 goals, and it’s easier to turn generic writing into something coherent than it is to make something out of nothing.

Well, that was all mostly deleted by quarter time. A man has plans and the Football Gods laugh.

I did NOT expect the engaging, dramatic, exciting, but probably pretty ordinary game of football I saw.

I will preface this article with a brief statement. If you’re a Saints fan, thinking “yay we won, I’m going to read about all the good things we did”, look away now. They may have taken the four points, but the Eagles won my attention and then held it, which is a very impressive feat. The game has already been labelled as being a ‘relief’ or ‘great escape.’ No, a close win to a middle side is a great escape. I put this game as not just getting away with murder, but also shooting the judge in the courthouse and then running off into the sunset.

No, Sir, this game is one the Saints should look upon as a loss, particularly in the first half. And that’s largely how I’ve treated it.

Let’s get into it:



Pretty easily I’d expect. Just turn up, play professionally and don’t assume you’ve already won the game simply because the team you’re playing is rubbish. Stick to your strengths, and control the game as you know how to do.



Well, to answer this question, we need to look backwards a bit. The Eagles are a rubbish team. Yes, injuries, blah blah blah. No Tim Kelly, blah blah blah. I think there’s some rot setting into this side and that rot is Hubris. The great destroyer of mythological Kings and Gods who say, ‘WE’RE SO GOOD NO ONE CAN BRING ME DOWN!’ and they say it until they’re so far down they can no longer get back up.

No, this “injury blah blah blah” is a way of excusing poor list management; it’s a way of excusing poor performances from a side that should be doing better. I am not saying injuries can’t excuse losing games of football. They are definitely a factor in bad games, bad seasons, and otherwise missed opportunities. A host of injuries can ruin a season before it begins: Ross Lyon lost his job due to missing the finals four or five years in a row, when many times, his injury list crawled above 15. Essendon managed a season without virtually any players at all – suspension, not injury of course, but the point stands. The Swans struggled with them earlier this year.

Admittedly, the Eagles are now missing about 20 players, which is the worst list I’ve ever seen outside Essendon in that season. So, it is fine to say “hey we’re no good because we’re only filling half a side.” Sure. But they shouldn’t be THIS level of no good. They’ve had enough talent to be competitive (with maybe the occasional blowout). So what’s been going wrong? Simple: They’ve allowed themselves to be bad, because it’s not their fault – it’s the fault of injury. And once you start shifting blame away from players who are there and are able to be better, you allow them a free ride not to be. Which I think is what has happened the last six weeks, and what they will need to not allow today.

To win this game, they need to be honest. They need to admit they are a rubbish football team, that’s played rubbish football, and nothing else can excuse the performances they’ve put in recently. They need to go back to basics, and remember that they do still have plenty of class on the field.

To do anything other than be an embarrassment, to give their fans something to look forward to, they needed to start this game well – not with great football, not with tricks or brilliant ball movement, not with brilliant highlights. They just needed to pressure well, win the footy and try to make things happen or try make life hard for the Saints.

And after writing this preamble, in the first quarter of the game, that is exactly what happened.



19:41 is the time on the clock in which Mitch Owens has sunk the Saints’ first goal. 21 seconds in. And I thought, oh God here we go again. But then something happened. The Eagles switched to become a team who had put their poor performances and excuses behind them. Allen hit back a few minutes later. Their contested possessions were up, inside 50s were higher. The Eagles had shown up. Darling kicked a great goal about five minutes after Allen’s and then Noah Long kicked the Eagles’ withthird  a great snap from the boundary.

The Saints looked stunned, as if they might actually have to play football to win.

It may have been something they weren’t expecting.

Simply put, in the first half, the Eagles worked harder, tackled harder, moved the ball better. They moved it quickly but still sensibly, and they took their chances. They went back to basics football, back to what they know, and played with the no fear style of a team on the ropes who has absolutely nothing to lose.

At quarter time, it was the Eagles up 25-18, and I spent much of the break in shock.

If I was impressed by the Eagles’ start, I was gobsmacked by the second quarter.

If there was a question of Hubris in this game, it was all the Saints. The Eagles weren’t dominating stats by any chance. They lost the clearances, and possession was about the same, but the Eagles were simply controlling the second quarter, and when they started flicking the ball around with nice little handballs, the “go back to basics” which had built them a lead at quarter time was starting to look like the kind of party tricks they’d been watching their opponents do to them in recent weeks.

Their lead built and built and when it was 50-25, I was fully focused on my screen, shouting at my apparent Eagles-loving seven-year-old daughter to put down her tablet and come watch (I’d been avoiding showing her the games, as not to scare her away too early). Fully committed in her Eagles pyjamas, she played her game in front of the television.

What stood out was their marking, which finished at 117-87 and their tackling (89-67). It was once said that when the Eagles take 100 marks for a game they don’t tend to lose. They didn’t win today, but the final difference showed they controlled the game as they wanted to and their pressure around the ball was elite. They just weren’t able to run it out as they once would’ve been able to.

The Saints were able to hit back at times and generally keep themselves in it, and some of their quicker transitions from back to forward did worry the Eagles. But it was only in the first 20 seconds then through a passage late in the first quarter when they were able to impact the board.



When Brad Hill turned the ball over on the wing, I can only argue that this Saints team looked as disinterested as I predicted the Eagles to play. Hill had the ball, and there were a couple of half-options running back. Hill darted the kick to no one in particular, which allowed for a very easy turnover. Worse, when the ball made its way back to the Eagles’ 50-metre line, Bailey Williams was able to take a nice uncontested mark among a triangle of St Kilda spectators.

When I see players stand in a particular tactical position and not go for the ball, I see a team who is either not willing to put their body on the line or who has become so over-coached they’ve forgotten how to play with instincts. I suspect in this passage it was a little bit of both. The Saints simply COULD NOT believe they were losing this game, so instead of trying to win the footy they defaulted to structures and set plays which simply do not work unless you’re willing to put in the effort as well.

The passage of short kicks across half forward to allow Hewett to find Maric in space to kick his first home goal, and then the way the Eagles took the ball from the middle and found Hewett now in space, himself, to mark and goal, had me scratching my head. Here is a Ross Lyon-coached team. It’s a team that should be building its game around contest and pressure, but they were looking completely third-rate against the bottom side. Against a bottom side that wasn’t even PLAYING THAT WELL! I mean credit to the Eagles – they did play well, but they did so simply because the Saints let them.

Oddly, the Saints had significant injuries at the start of the year and were sitting on top, looking pretty happy. Now they’ve got most of their team back and playing, they’ve slid quite quickly down the ladder. So, I don’t know what’s happened there, but against the most injury-ravaged team in probably the history of the game, with a fairly fit side, they put up the kind of performance they probably could have got away with early in the season.

A goal to Caminiti late in the first half may have lifted their spirits a bit, but King had a chance from about 45 to really build some momentum and didn’t make the distance. The Saints walked off the field with a 56-32 point deficit, and suddenly I had a lot to write about.



The West Coast’s positioning was brilliant off the ball, too. One thing I appreciate perhaps more than most, is good defensive positioning. People often say watching a team chip the ball around is boring footy, and I suppose it kind of is, but it is made boring through beautiful defensive work which disallows any easy movement forward. Better sides than St. Kilda will try some run and carry to break the lines, or take on a few a riskier kicks, and that in itself is where the excitement is born.

The Eagles were structurally beautiful behind the ball, even having my most favoured but rare player – the goalkeeper. I get so frustrated when I see the ball dribbled through the goal from a quick kick within a crowded forward line, not the dribble kick- but with the vacant goal line. I think “Why the hell is there not someone on the line to stop that?” and flashback to my under 16s coach who would’ve killed me for not having someone there: You can save five or six goals a game if done well without giving up a player to harass the person with the ball. So, it was so refreshing to see Tom Barrass take a couple of marks or be there to cut off a goal or two from the Saints, which other teams would have permitted to go through.

Through this simple act, Barrass sent the message to the Saints that he’d stopped caring about Max King (who kicked a goal and provided some outlet options, but overall had no major impact) and simultaneously to his fans that his team is controlling this game and they have confidence in their defensive structures. That they’re not panicking and getting sucked into the contest; they’re not running around like headless chooks; they’re not standing around like witches-hats. They mean business and have got the confidence and enough experience to take it up to this top 8 side.

Meanwhile, structurally, the first half version of the Saints had all the structural integrity of a match stick bridge held together by some expired PVC glue. The Eagles were able to just find option after option all around the ground. It was very West Coast-like, but even more Un-Ross-Lyon-like. However, as I was writing about how bad the Saints were in the first half, Lyon was moving things around the board and reminding his team of the importance of defence. And, in the second half, we saw:



In true Ross Lyon fashion, the Saints explode out of the blocks and then doubled down on defence. It wasn’t big changes, but their pressure lifted immensely, and within seven minutes, they’d brought the 24-point lead back to five, and looked as though the first half didn’t happen. It was scores from stoppages – the Saints’ eighth goal marked 6.1 from stoppages each. The third quarter was an arm wrestle to control the match, as the Eagles hit back with a couple. But it was death by a thousand cuts for the gallant Eagles, as the Saints sent up to 15 players to flood the back line in the fourth and dry up the Eagles’ scoring. The Saints never really controlled the game in the second half, but they were able to take control away from the Eagles and that was enough. 7.10-2.3 after halftime is probably not a fair representation of the way the half was played, but it did represent just how difficult the Saints made it for the Eagles to polish off their good work through the middle and in defence.



One of the most telling parts of the game, and the part which highlighted how well each side played, was their desperation. In the third quarter, Rowan Marshall had the ball a few metres out, and with the kind of desperation that would bring Saints fans some bad memories of certain moments in a certain Grand Final, the Eagles managed a smother and rushed behind. Then, with fairly quick transitioning, Petruccelle, was able to kick a goal and give the Eagles a bit more momentum. This allowed the Eagles to push their lead back out to 18, and just halt the run from the Saints. Butler threatened up forward shortly after, but instead of snapping for goal, decided to attempt a five-metre pass to a teammate. The umpire was never going to pay it, allowing the Eagles to pressure until a much more difficult kick than Butler would have needed to attempt in the first place was made and missed. In return, the Eagles went bang, bang, bang, get the ball forward and Elijah Hewett snapped truly for the 11-point turnaround goal.

I do not understand players who pass the ball inside 50 when they really don’t have anyone to go to. Surely missing the goal early, while your team can set up defensively is better than allowing a turnover or kicking a behind when everyone’s run forward. Butler learnt from his mistake, and a nice snap over his shoulder undid some of the damage caused.

But as second the half progressed, the Eagles just weren’t able to maintain the heat, although a rundown tackle from Oscar Allen on the much faster Brad Hill was inspiring. The Saints were able to control possession much more and create enough space to find the target they needed to find inside 50. It was somewhat attritional, but effective from visiting team.  In the end, they toyed with the Eagles and got enough numbers around the ball, that the pressure on them became meaningless and the outlet options plentiful. It was the switch of a professional team against a bottom side. Once the Saints’ desperation lifted, so did their chances of winning. This game was in two halves of them having not enough and then the right amount of desperation with the ball to score and without it to prevent scoring. When you think about it, footy’s pretty simple, really.



Josh Battle was subbed out with a concussion just before halftime, and Brad Hill limped off clutching his knee after being tackled by Oscar Allen.

Cooper Sharman jogged off late in the 4th quarter with a slight limp.




The Midfields

Rowan Marshall was probably the Saints’ best inside mid all game, which is great considering he is also a ruckman. He picked up eight clearances and generally used the ball pretty well. Playing mostly between the arcs, 17 of his 26 disposals were contested, and he battled hard all game, being supported by Steele (seven clearances) and Crouch (seven clearances). But while the Saints won the clearance game 44-36, I just found that the Eagles’ mids,  particularly Shuey and Sheed, were able to run the ball out of stoppages with much more efficiency, particularly in the first half. As the game opened later, the Saints’ mids got a bit more goal-side and the clearances

Elijah Hewett

Hewett is one of those new Eagles whom I know absolutely nothing about, but if today is anything to go by, we’re all going to learn a lot about him very quickly. Playing on half forward and through the middle, he had 11 touches, four clearances and kicked two goals. Silky smooth skills and footy smarts. Keep an eye out for this kid.


Ryan Maric

This was Maric’s first game at home after being selected in the mid-season draft. Having a career that comprised of two losses totally almost 300 points, he could be forgiven for giving it all up as a bad dream. He had a pretty good game with 11 touches and a couple of goals to excite the home supporters, but faded late. He’ll be a good player, but needs to get a pre-season under his belt.


Bailey Williams

I got big wraps on this kid. I remember saying back in the Derby (Round 3) that he’d possibly learnt more from Sean Darcy in that game than his coaches will have taught him in the last six months. Probably a bit hyperbolic, and not out of disrespect to him (or his coaches), but he was fairly soundly beaten – as he should have been. Yet, not at one stage in that game did he look beaten or look uncompetitive. He looked like someone who said “This is what I want to be.” Well, time travel forward about 10 weeks, and he gets to line up against Rowan Marshall who is serviceable, but not one of the Darcys or Englishes of the world. Williams was brilliant all game, helping out in defence with some good intercept marks. He rucked beautifully in the contest including a palm down allowing Shuey collect, run and deliver into the forward line as if playing AFL2004 on ‘beginner’ setting, and then he went forward and looked a genuine option there, popping up with a nice mark or two and a goal.


Anthony Caminiti

Caminiti stood out to me as one of the guys who always seemed to stand up whenever his team needed him to. Whenever there was a flat spot or the Eagles had momentum, he found a way to compete or find a goal. He didn’t have a stellar game in terms of stats (nine touches and two goals), but he always seemed to be there right when they needed him.


Mitch Owens

Owens was the Saints’ highlight up forward with four goals, and offering a presence all game. In a game where Max King was largely kept quiet or forced to get his possession on the wing, Owens offered a genuine target inside 50.


Jack Darling

After starting the game with a nice goal, I kind of forgot he was playing. He finished with a goal, six disposals, and was subbed off late in the game to allow Barnett, the Eagles’ 40th player of the year, to debut. He serves a role, Jack Darling, and that role is keeping people away from Oscar Allen.




“The season returns to normal with their bonus percentage” Is what I should have been saying.

I mean, c’mon. You could say “the next coach sacked will be whoever loses to the Eagles,’ and it’d be one of those bad jokes attached to an almost serious statement. No, they’re not going to sack Ross Lyon, but something has not gone right at that football club. If I remember his first season at Fremantle, the team was called ‘unwatchable’ at the start of the season, and they developed into a pretty successful team by the end of that year. If I look back to his first season at St Kilda, he had a patchy start, but then had six wins, three losses and a draw in his final 10 games for the season to finish 9th. Well, his second ‘first season’ at the Saints he’s shot to the top and it’s been a pretty gradual decline. He’ll say something about being “processed based’ and “not results based’ which is his usual mantra, but perhaps he should look at the ‘not results based’ cricketing captain who’s about to go 2-0 down in a home Ashes, and see it as a cautionary tale.

Because where to from here? It’s not looking pretty, unless they sort out whatever it was that caused the first half to happen. This was not a great game. I’ve never heard a flatter rendition of a song sung after a game before and that was good. It’s a clear sign they were not happy about the result. They should treat this game as a loss, because better teams than the Eagles won’t let them get away with this level of performance and that includes every team they’re facing until September.



Well, as much as this game is a huge confidence builder for the club, and as much as it gives a bit of breathing space, I wouldn’t expect great heights from here. There are still going to be some really bad games, and it’s unlikely they’ll win many if any for the rest of the season. But I think they’ve set a minimum standard of game, especially in terms of pressure and without placing importance on the margin any level of intent that is less than what they showed today should be deemed inexcusable.

There’s a big concern in the way they finished quarters – in every quarter, they allowed the Saints to kick a goal or two. To start winning games, they need to finish the quarter and then the game out strong. It’s a pretty minor fix, really. They should look at this game as a win. Yes, they didn’t get the four points, but they did everything their fans wanted them to do. Which, at this point of the season, is a little win worth celebrating.



This strangely ended up a pretty good footy match – if not one to remember. It definitely wasn’t one of high skill or high intensity, and it won’t go down as a greatly memorable game, but it definitely said a lot more about both these teams than I expected it to. It engaged me a lot more than it perhaps deserved to. The Eagles weren’t amazing, but they were competitive and solid. The Saints were woeful and then managed to professionally do what they needed to do get out of jail.