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The Good, Bad and Ugly - St Kilda v Hawthorn

Okay, I have to put this put there right off the bat – I’m a Hawthorn supporter. Not as passionate as I once was, but a Hawthorn supporter nonetheless.

I hope that’s okay, as I’m guessing it’ll mostly be Saints supporters reading this, but you’ll have to excuse my frustration at times as, even though I try to be impartial, I am sure at times I will take that frustration out in a comment or paragraph, or 5000 word essay on particular incidents involving Hawthorn players who really stunk it up.

But for the most part, I will be concentrating on St Kilda, who, simply put, just wanted it more. They were so much better around stoppages, with a team of on-ballers working together to get hands on the ball and clear it effectively.

I’ll get to how good they were in those instances as we head into the good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

ROWAN MARSHALL

Occasionally I get something right, and last season I watched Rowan Marshall play, thinking that he was the future of the St Kilda Football Club. At the time, all the talk was about Paddy McCartin and how he had to come good in order for the Saints to get anywhere.

Well, with all the ruckmen at St Kilda, I saw Marshall have his turn, and noticed that he was more than just your run-of-the-mill big fella taking up space. I actually thought he’d be a really good target inside 50, rather than a ruck, but it turns out… he can be both!

Marshall has great hands, and works hard to stay in the contest. His second and third efforts today were excellent, and his ability to win his own ball resulted in seven individual clearances. Only Jack Sinclair had more.

Matched up against Ben McEvoy to begin with, and playing a lone hand against both him and Jonathon Ceglar, Marshall once again showed why the future of the St Kilda ruck position is secure. He is strong, has good instincts, and he is not some one-dimensional big bozo who is useless once the ball hits the deck. He is the real deal, and just 16 games into his career, he is going to get better.

Much better, and that’ll scare the shit out of opposition coaches.

And finally, how good was his bandage-action today! It made him look like a cross between Lord Voldemort and a chipmunk.

 

CALLUM WILKIE

Okay, I’ll admit it… I haven’t given this fella anywhere near enough respect, and an admission that will reinforce that… I thought his name was Cam Wilkie. Apologies, Saints fans.

This bloke has come from nowhere, and four games into his AFL career, looks like he’s been playing in the league for years!

He ran at 91% efficiency this afternoon, which indicates one of two things- he is either a wonderful kick of the footy, or he is very aware of his limitations and doesn’t try to do too much. Which is it, Saints fans?

I’m thinking it would be the latter, as he had eight intercept possessions, yet took the ball outside 50 himself on only three occasions. That’s not a bad thing – more players should be aware of what they can and can’t, or should and shouldn’t do.

Wilkie’s attack on the contests and his opponents with the ball saw him as one whose name just kept appearing in my notes. Contest killer, unsung hero, team player… thy name is definitely not Cam Wilkie… it’s Callum Wilkie – I won’t be forgetting again in a hurry.

 

SEB ROSS AND JACK BILLINGS

Firstly, Billings… has he finally arrived? Are the saints finally playing him in the role he needs to be in? Because as an outside mid, Billings looks fantastic.

Dropping back into defence, he overcame a shaky start by foot to become integral in the St Kilda midfield machine as it overpowered the inexperienced Hawthorn crew.

Billings finished with 34 touches to take his season average to 30.5 disposals per game over the first four weeks, and added five tackles and six defensive 50 exits to his numbers.

Then you had running machine, Seb Ross. I want to come clean here – I’m not sure I’ve ever wrote it, but I have long held a belief that Ross didn’t really hurt with his disposals. I thought he was more the kind of player that linked up, accumulated nice-looking numbers on a spreadsheet and moved onto do the same the next week.

Well, my eyes are opened, and there was one particular passage of play that stood out.

Late in the third quarter, the Saints were making their move, and Ross gained possession at half back. He smashed a raking cross-ground kick that hits his target in stride and set the Saints off as they went end-to-end and saw Josh Bruce hit on the tit by Blake Acres for a goal.

You could see at that moment that the saints had belief. Coincidentally, I may have sworn at that moment and walked away from the TV for a moment or two.

Ross finished with 39 touches and sent the Saints inside 50 on six occasions and is sitting nicely with 27.5 touches per game in 2019. And plenty of those disposals are hurting the opposition, contrary to what blokes like me may have thought before the game.

 

JACK STEELE

It was a strange afternoon for Steele. Once Jaeger O’Meara was ruled out of the game, the role of Jack Steele became a little cloudy. Who would he now go to and take out of the game? Was it worth having him occupied with a player unlikely to significantly impact the result? Why not allow him to focus a little more on winning his own footy?

Not to say that Steele wasn’t his usual accountable self, but without a defined number one tagging target, he was allowed to freelance a little, and the results were very pleasing.

He finished with seven clearances among his 27 disposals and played a true midfield role, venturing deep into defence, and attack almost equally. His attack on the man with the ball was exactly what you’d expect from Steele, picking up seven tackles – marginally under his eight per game average for the year.

I’m a big believer that every successful team needs one midfielder who is unconcerned with personal stats and glory. Steele is that player for St Kilda – he’d take holding his opponent to ten touches over racking up 30 himself.

It’s that kind of selflessness that makes average teams good, and good teams great. Just where St Kilda will sit in that matrix will be decided over the next 20+ weeks, but they’ve given themselves every opportunity to build a very good season now, and the hard work of Jack Steele is a very good reason for it.

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THE CLEARANCE WORK AROUND THE GROUND

There was a point late in the last quarter where Mrs Mongrel started to take interest in the game. To my disgust, she was pulling for the Saints to win because she likes “Sad Coach” Alan Richardson.

I turned to her and said “The Saints will win this – they want it more.”

Now I’m no oracle… I tipped the Crows to win the flag in the preseason, so how well am I going? But around the ground, every time there was a dead ball, the Saints were all over it. the young Hawthorn midfield just wasn’t strong enough over the footy to extract it to the outside runner to get the ball going their way in any meaningful fashion.

In stark contrast (it is Game of Thrones round, after all), the Saints had Jack Steele, Seb Ross and Jack Sinclair all willing to put their head over the ball and win it for their team.

And that’s what they did.

The final figures for clearances around the ground saw the Saints with a 42-29 advantage. That is where the game was won and lost, people. Forget Hawthorn fans using the “oh, we were down rotations” lines – that’s garbage. They were beaten by a team who wanted the ball more and made the effort to get it, and that was indicative in those numbers.

 

JACK SCRIMSHAW

On a dirty day for Hawthorn fans, Jack Scrimshaw was probably the light that shined brightest.

There were guys like Breust, Gunston and Sicily out there, taking their turn on the spotlight as the game wore on, but it was the stellar defensive work, and reading of the ball in flight that made the game of Scrimshaw a highlight for hawthorn.

 In a role reminiscent of the “close to returning but never actually returning” Grant Birchall, Scrimshaw had 12 intercept possessions for the Hawks and was one of the few clear winners in the back half.

Splitting time between Tim Membrey and Blake Acres amongst others, Scrimshaw worked tirelessly to repel the St Kilda attack. He took three contested marks for the game (equal game-high) and ran at 83% efficiency.

Definitely one of the best, if not THE best Hawk on the ground.

 

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THE BAD

 

THREE DEGREES OF JAMES SICILY

You know, I badly want this guy to skyrocket and become one of the great half backs in the league, but there are times when I have to look away and come to terms that maybe he is content being a good, solid backman who makes dumb mistakes.

When you look at his game as a whole, it stacks up as pretty impressive. Look at the numbers. 28 disposals at 75%, 10 marks, 11 contested disposals, a huge 634 metres gained and 10 intercept possessions. Nice game, huh?

Now, cast your mind back to three particular moments for me.

Third quarter – Sicily has the ball in the back pocket and the Saints are starting to press. The smart option is to go long down the line and he does, laying back on the kick and allowing the man on the mark to close the ground after being called upon to play on. The kick sails out of bounds, and St Kilda get to launch another attack as a result.

Third quarter – Minutes later, a poor kick across goal puts Sicily under pressure. While in no way excusing the disastrous Mirra kick, Sicily displays no urgency in attacking the ground ball. St Kilda forward, Dean Kent shows Sicily how it’s done, and goes hard. He wins the contest. The result – a goal to Jack Lonie as the Saints go back into attack.

Final quarter – Game on the line stuff, the long ball goes deep inside the Saints’ attacking 50. Sicily has a run at the ball with the flight. He throws one hand up at it on the back of several short steps. He doesn’t make contact. The result – I can’t bloody remember as I had my head in my hands.

Remember back to yesterday when Harry Himmelberg threw himself at the contest and took the kind of mark that inspires a team? Come on… you know the one. How about the courageous mark by first year player Willem Drew in the dying stages of the Richmond-Port Adelaide game? Not quite as dangerous, but still gutsy.

Those are the acts you remember from players. Those are the acts that go into the video packages when players have their biographies documented on film. It’s not 600+ metres gained, or ten rebound 50 disposals  - it’s moments, and today James Sicily had three very forgettable ones.

I hope like hell I’m not writing about these kinds of moments more as the season progresses because when he does go hard at the ball, like the big contested mark he took on the wing in the last quarter, he is magnificent, and as a Hawthorn supporter, I want him being magnificent.

I don’t want the laconic, three-quarter paced, short-stepping version I saw at times today.

 

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THE UGLY

 

THE MIRRA MAN

Yeah, the Mirra Man… he needs to go have a long, hard look at himself after this game.

It was fitting that Josh Bruce took a mark on the lead opposed to Dave Mirra as the clock wound down, as Mirra’s efforts in the last quarter were exactly what the Hawks did not need.

When good foot skills were required today, Mirra missed targets. When sure hands were required, Mirra double-grabbed at the footy. When cool heads in a tight contest were required in defence, Mirra refused to trust his skills and hit a target, and when the pressure really came, it was Mirra caught holding the ball to give Jack Lonie the chance to give the Saints the lead.

Dave Mirra was a great story of perseverance in 2018, finally getting a crack at the big time after being a staple in the Hawthorn VFL team, but there was a very good reason he was a VFL staple for so long – you can’t trust his disposal.

He was incredibly lucky not to be pinged for a deliberate out of bounds in the third quarter as he kicked to absolutely nobody, but was given the benefit of the doubt by the umpire, and was equally lucky not to give away a free kick for taking the legs of Tim Membrey early in the game.

I know the Hawks are stretched for big defenders, but when the game is tight, you simply can’t have Mirra responsible for the distribution of the ball, or put in situations where clean hands are required. They’re not in his wheelhouse, and the Hawks found that out the hard way this afternoon.

 

 

QUICK BITS

I would like to have fit Jade Gresham into the “good” section, but really, I could throw another few St Kilda players in there with him. Suffice to day, he was impressive again. Though he appeared to waste the ball a little more today, every time he went near it, you could almost feel that something special was brewing. There aren’t many players in the game that give off that kind of aura, but the Saints have one in Gresham.

I thought Ben Long started like a rocket, and ended up more like that space shuttle that blew up. Where did he go after quarter time?

It could’ve been a huge day for Jack Lonie, couldn’t it? But for inaccuracy, he was a livewire around goal and gave the smaller Hawk defenders nightmares.

I like what I’m seeing from Tom Scully as he makes his return to footy. I don’t think he’s going to get any worse than what we’ve seen the last couple of weeks, and even that was pretty damn good. His hands look great, and his ability to cover the ground, though I am sure not at the GWS-level just yet – will no doubt be something the Hawks will rely on as the season progresses.

Jonathon Ceglar – he really works hard without the ball but he needs to take a mark or two to make his mark on contests. Nine touches and three marks… not good enough under a roof. I do like his tackling – he looks like he tackles to hurt at times.

I’ll be interested to see if Isaac Smith has a more serious injury in the wash up of today’s game. He had 22 touches but for mine, was not influential in any way.

We’re not seeing he numbers we got used to last year from Jimmy Webster, but a couple of his lunging defensive efforts today were right on the money.

I did not enjoy seeing Jarryd Roughead going for marks one-handed again. I reckon you could count on one hand the amount of times he’s been successful with that move. Yes, I know he wants to bring it to ground, but you know what else works? Bringing it to ground with two hands. In the third quarter when he did attack the ball with two hands, guess what happened? Yes, he marked and goaled.

Maybe there’s something in that for all of us, hmmm?

Anther quiet game for Dean Kent – he was one I thought would have a huge impact on the Saints. He did a couple of nice things over the duration of the game, but overall, it’d be hard to mark him as a pass in this one.

And speaking of fails, Chad Wingard… six effective touches today. Nowhere near it.

I’m pretty sick of the excuse “oh they’re down on rotations.” It takes away from the team that is pressing, and discredits the teams who have been able to work hard to overcome adversity in the past. It’s a cop out, and it’s what I’ve heard from hawthorn supporters twice this year. Twice they’ve been overrun in the last quarter not because of rotations, but because they’ve been beaten by a better team.

You don’t hear winners complaining about rotations.

Hood well-structured were the saints across the middle in the last quarter! Billings, Acres, Battle and Sinclair were all lining up to cut off the hack kicks out of defensive 50 from the hawks and pump them back inside 50. I was surprised they didn’t score more as they were pressing hard for so long. The dam wall eventually broke as Lonie won the hard ball in a tackle and converted.

Then it was the Saints’ defenders turn to shine. Wilkie, Savage, Paton and Battle were all really big in the last quarter. They turned the hawks back, though the repeated long bombs to a congested forward line did Hawthorn no favours late in the game – played right into the Saints’ hands.

So, what’s next? The Saints, along with the Suns have set everyone back on their heels. This isn’t supposed to be happening, but it is. They get the Dees at the MCG on Saturday, whilst the hawks can prepare for their annual Easter Monday clash with the Cats.

I have to say, I am loving the unpredictability of this season so far, and even though my team lost… knowing that my missus is happy for “Sad Coach” kind of softens the blow…

… damn her

 

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