AFL Round 1 – Gold Coast v St. Kilda: A master and a mystery

Oh when the Cards go marching in

Oh when the Cards go marching in

How I want to be in Atlanta

When the Cards go marching in

It is a glorious day in one red-white-and-black world. The University of Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball team, outfitted in their cardinal, white and black “adizero” camo-print uniforms, dispatched Duke by 22 points on Sunday (despite losing a key player to a broken leg in the first half) to reach the NCAA Tournament Final Four for a second straight year, and this time as the favorite to win it all. And U of L’s women’s team shockingly eliminated the nation’s best team, Baylor – defending national champions and winners of 74 of their last 75 games — in their Sweet 16.

This world is filled with giddy fans who filled area pubs last weekend, clogged streets cruising and honking horns, packed the downtown entertainment mall for a giant pep rally and are organizing car pools and caravans for the 400-mile trek to Atlanta this weekend. An estimated 25,000 made the two-hour drive to Indianapolis this past weekend; as many as 20,000 will head south.

It’s also filled with meetings and phone calls and text messages as we organize our newspaper’s staff writers and photographers to fully document these amazing basketball happenings. A poster section, with full-page photos and stats of every U of L player, will be printed Friday. A 14-page Final Four preview section runs Saturday. If the Cardinals win it all, a newsprint commemorative section and a 128-page hardbound book will follow.

The Cardinal men’s biggest star is shooting guard Russ Smith, popularly known as “Russdiculous.” He’s earned the nickname ­– his game is a combination of Artful Dodger and street-ball savant — improbable twisting shots, no-look passes, cat-quick steals, calculated risks and impetuous decisions. Alternately mesmerizing and baffling.

Often he has carried the Cardinals to victory both through example and exhortation, much like Gary Ablett Jr. on Saturday night against St. Kilda, my other red, white and black passion. Of course Gaz did not singlehandedly will Gold Coast past St. Kilda. But it’s undeniable that as Ablett’s influence increased in the second half, the Suns lifted and believed. Perhaps this is the year when Ablett’s once-stunning move to Gold Coast will pay off in victories and ladder position. The answers are less clear for the Saints, the AFL’s Team of Mystery; pundits unable to agree on how a list skewed by age at both ends will function. How old is old? How young is young?

On Saturday night, old looked old and young looked young for the Saints, admittedly undermanned without Leigh Montagna (suspension), Justin Koschitzke (demotion), Sean Dempster, Sam Fisher and Adam Schneider (all injured).

The Suns came out aggressively and took a two-goal lead into the first change; the margin could have been larger if not for a couple of posts and more than a couple of fumbles on seemingly certain marks. The first term was not so much about Ablett as about the kids like Harley Bennell (goal) and Luke Russell (goal) and Charlie Dixon (goal and behind off the post).

The second quarter belonged to St. Kilda, fueled by midfielder David Armitage, at 24 rounding into a key role. A bright spot, no doubt. He set up a couple of scores and got one himself as the Saints kicked five to a couple of behinds for the Suns and led by 19 points at the half. Nick Riewoldt, a leader of the old guard and apparently healed from all of the past injuries, kicked a couple.

The Saints added a couple of behinds at the start of the third, and then the game changed. Goals by Matthew Shaw and Ablett more than halved the Saints’ lead. Armitage was slowed by recurrent cramps from the humid conditions. Terry Milera’s goal, off a series of pinpoint passes from Rhys Stanley to Ahmed Saad to Sam Gilbert, stopped the tide for the moment. But only for the moment. Jaeger O’Meara’s wraparound kick off a throw-in tightened the score again. The Suns had three seemingly certain goals after, but all were inaccurate and wound up behinds. Nine points at three-quarter time.

The final term started ominously, Ablett scoring after a dubious free called on Gilbert for a mysterious hold during a scramble. Then a break – shades of “Russdiculous” – when Ablett’s blind clearing kick went right to Arryn Siposs for an easy major score. And then Dixon scored after another dubious call on Stanley for hands in the back. Three-point game.

The Suns were rising. And that’s when Ablett seized the moment, spinning away from a pack for a goal, then swooping in when Gilbert dropped a mark and converting again. A Sam Day score upped the margin to 16, but Stephen Milne answered on a feed from Beau Maister. But the Suns had their Master – who sealed the win by outrunning Clinton Jones for a loose ball and kicking to space rapidly to be filled by a sprinting Dion Prestia. Sigh.

So many questions to be answered for the Saints, and few answers. Slow starts are nothing new; last year St. Kilda opened with an agonizing four-point loss to Port, which won all of four more games. The year before started with a one-point loss to Geelong, a springboard both to the Cats’ spectacular season and also to a dismal funk it took the Saints almost two months to escape from.

Richmond – a tough matchup the past couple of years – looms next, then the Giants, then a rough Bombers-Swans-Pies-Blues-Crows stretch. By then maybe we’ll know if we’re reloading, rebuilding or rethinking.

No such worries in the other red-white-and-black world. Joy or disappointment awaits for the Cardinals’ faithful this weekend. Reckoning will come much more slowly for the Saints.

 

Gold Coast                        3.6            3.8            6.11            13.12 (90)

St. Kilda                        1.7            6.9            7.14            10.17 (77)

GOALS

Gold Coast: Ablett 4, Dixon 2, Russell 2, Hall, Bennell, O’Meara, Shaw, Day.

St. Kilda: Milera 3, Riewoldt 2, Siposs, Maister, Armitage, Steven, Milne.

BEST

Gold Coast: Ablett, Dixon, Hall, Thompson, Harbrow.

St. Kilda: Armitage, Hayes, Steven, Milera, Geary.

MALARKEY  VOTES

Ablett 3, Armitage 2, Milera 1.

About Glenn Brownstein

I'm a red, white and blue supporter of the red, white and black who became a footy fan through ESPN telecasts in the 1980s and a buddy who founded the American version of the game. Yup, I chose the Saints, but I'd like to think they chose me, too.

Comments

  1. Well done Glenn well summed up, especially the question of what this all meant in the long run. We have our work cut out for the last year of a number of players. It’s hard to see kosi and Blake and even Lenny lasting much longer. Glad your other team won! Yvette

  2. PeterSchumacher says:

    Really good analysis of the game and where St Kilda may or may not be at.

    Having looked at a replay of the last quarter and a bit of the game, I have to admit that the free that Ablett received in the last quarter was pretty dubious along as well as the one Day received. Both possible turning points. All the same,Gaz played a blinder

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