Cats Machine Rusty on a Wet Night

The rain poured, making a mess of my blazer in minutes. The train was delayed, so consequentially it was packed. I had to run in school shoes for fifty metres to get out of the freezing June rain.
And I did it all with a smile.
School was over. The Friday afternoon rain just made me open up and relax as I had two weeks off.
Tonight, following a week of revealed underhand dealings with police regarding an incident involving Leigh Montagna and Stephen Milne including evidence that had disappeared, the Saints were up against the best in the business: Geelong. The general belief (however desperate) was that if anyone could topple the champion team/team of champions, it was the Saints.
Solid rain all week had turned a strip of the MCG centre square into sludge; looking like a bald spot on Shane Warne’s head, it snared countless stoppages all night.
James Kelly and Paul Chapman were omissions that cut holes in Geelong’s half back and forward line.
My plans to watch the match seemed unlikely when the power went out. But, as if Joel Selwood was working the switches, it came on at 7:20. An excuse for two hours of loafing was accepted.
Geelong opened with the legs and confidence, Gary Ablett snapping a goal at full tilt from forty. The crowd was disappointingly small early on, so Ablett’s goal was received more to than the sound of a major from the Eagles than the Cats.
From there, the Saints had the play in their 50. Geelong were lucky that the play was scrappy; St Kilda’s tall forwards dull and the conditions cumbersome, or the lead could’ve been with the Saints at quarter time.
Hayes pushes the packs aside with second and third efforts, Gwilt provides critical run off half back while suffocating Podsiadly and Dal Santo ekes out silky skills in conditions befitting hacks off the ground and fumbled chest marks. Still, St Kilda was struggling to kick goals; it took a soft 50 metre penalty to Schneider for them to get one on the board.
Schneider kicked his second to give the Saints the lead. Geelong’s backline seemed cautious to the point of slow, St Kilda’s aggressive and risky defence was repelling attacks quicker than they could go back in.
Still, St Kilda couldn’t kick goals while they had the ascendency. After having well over half of the quarter’s play inside their 50, all it took was a dubious mark to Cameron Ling and a converted shot from thirty to give Geelong back the lead at quarter time.
Steven Baker, the dirtiest, roughest, least skilled tagger in the business, must’ve saved an umpire’s life in his early career. Never has a player escaped (on field) justice like him before or since. His current punching bag is Stevie Johnson, and he did not let up on the kidney taps, jumper punches and forearms to the back all quarter1.
Hayes and Mooney, the latter mostly ineffectual on a poor night for the key forward, miss important and simple set shots to start the second. Schneider restored some class with a textbook front and centre rove for his third. His good work was undone when Farren (got to be in the Top 10 worst names of all time, surely) Ray gave away a 50 metre penalty for abuse and Mackie converted. When he got another decision against him from the bounce, his mouth was sealed.
But it had started the run. A long bomb from the same free was marked uncontested twenty metres out by Matthew Stokes and converted. Ablett snapped a high floater through for his second and the margin was twelve points. The Cats seemed unstoppable. Varcoe, the weak link in Geelong’s back line last year, was best on ground. His magnificent running and second efforts gave Mooney a shot from fifteen metres out that would’ve extended Geelong’s lead to nineteen points. He hit the post. Upfield, Harry Taylor’s ‘faceplant spoil’ gave Dal Santo a goal against the flow. At the other end, Baker went a jab too far and copped an elbow over the shoulder from Johnson that split his thick head open. Johnson immediately goaled, Geelong holding a sixteen point half time lead.
Looking at my half time notes, I see a clear pattern: forwards are bad, defenders are good. Gwilt and Varcoe are the best for their respective sides, while Koschitzke and Trent West (Geelong just love dopey ruckmen) can’t do a thing right.

People say that the Browns, Judds and Abletts have the most pressure on them of all the players in the AFL.
But I have recently found a new, unlikely candidate for the ‘Do Or Die’ player of 2010. One that has had fans and media alike waiting like jackals for a poor performance for almost his entire ten year career.
Stephen Milne.
Widely regarded as the most despised player in the AFL; a bratty, ratty face, a sly, devious, dirty rotten half forward flanker capable of tearing teams apart and a man currently in a spot of hot water for off field actions. And now, he holds the weight of St Kilda’s forward line on his shoulders with Nick Riewoldt injured and Justin Koschitzke ineffective.
Still, one can’t deny his ability. His goal sense is sharp as barb wire and he’s as quick as Julia Gillard’s knife throwing hand.
And he had an important role in a third quarter that no one could’ve expected.
Jack Stevens, an unknown to the neutral viewer, has two goals within ten minutes to cut the margin to within a goal. The Saints are suddenly full of confidence. Gwilt and Geary are dicing up Geelong’s forward thrusts, while Stevens, picking up his third, is suddenly the best forward on the ground. The Saints bombard the goals. Dal Santo and Koschitzke are just offline, and another snap from Milne is marked on the paint of the goal.
For a while, the match is a slog and the ball spends more time out of play than in.
“Everyone seems in four minds,” declares Bruce McAvaney as the ball rolls out for the sixth time in a minute.
Four? I wouldn’t say it was one collectively.
And Geelong still can’t get it down there. They can’t even score. They get it to the square and Gilbert is given a soft 50 metre penalty that takes it out again.
As it ticked past the twenty minute mark, the parochial Cats fans are in denial while the Saint’s supporters (including Eric Bana) are roaring in delight. When Schneider kicked his fourth, the Saints were almost home. It wasn’t the fact that they were two goals up, it was the fact that they had completely disarmed the Geelong machine in a way that I hadn’t seen since a one-off in 2008.
Dad comes back from Sydney with five minutes to go and sees an astounding scoreboard and an inconceivable scenario.
Milne marked forty metres out, dodged a defender and curled through one that bounced on the line to give the Saints their ninth.
Geelong fail to score for the entire third quarter.
For the first time in over five years, their total doesn’t change for a term. That was when they were just competition, not world dominators.
Seventeen points up going into the last, the Saints were never in any real danger. Six minutes in, having repelled everything the Cats can throw at them and still up by three goals, they begin to run the clock down.  Stevens holds a mark that Enright doesn’t even contest, simply giving a clear indication as to where the Cats were at, and misses. But it doesn’t matter. Geelong actually have their chances, but their forwards make poor decisions. Bartel’s left arm is in a bad way. Taylor’s ankle soon adds to a lamentable and costly night for the Cats.
As each minute passes, Geelong drowns further to the abyss. By the twelve minute mark even they can’t make it. Their love of running and putting pressure on opposition defences has been turned on them and they can’t pull it back.
There is no goal in the last until the last ten seconds. A long kick to the square is marked by Milne, who plays on, slips and is nabbed by Hunt. Both of them stay still, awaiting the holding the ball decision.
But it doesn’t come. A ball up is called. Hunt, having worked his thumb shaped frame to the bone tonight, explodes in frustration with an abusive tirade and gives away a free. Milne snaps the goal to give the Saints a 24-point win.
Geelong kicks three behinds in the second half, their first goalless half in twenty six years.
Their seemingly invincible colossus hasn’t just been beaten; they’ve been thrashed with a few position changes and a tactical deviation. It’s a ray of hope for the other teams, a chance for the Bulldogs, Pies and, indeed, the Saints that there might still be some hope.
High up in the stands, Eric Bana’s faded, threadbare St Kilda scarf clings to his throat above a black jumper speckled with rain as he fist pumps passionately: his movie star status disbanded, he may as well be just another face in the crowd of nearly 60,000.
3-J. Gwilt 2-L. Hayes 1-J. Hunt

1Baker’s good luck with the umps ran out and he received nine weeks for four separate incidents. Johnson’s elbow gave him two and Cameron Mooney copped a two week ban for a jumper punch on Jason Blake.

About Callum O'Connor

Here’s to feelin’ good all the time.

Comments

  1. Good work Callum.

    May I ask what year level you’re in?

  2. Steve Healy says:

    G’day Callum. I see you’re a student.

    Great report by the way, I’ve read your work before and I’ve been wondering how old you are and where you come from.

  3. 1-Wow, what a coincidence Healy.

    Lol.

  4. Great work Callum, a bit on the long side but your love of footy shines through with your writing – loved the similes about Stevie Milne.

    I should point out though – it’s Jack Steven, not Stevens :)

  5. Great report, Callum!

    “Steven Baker, the dirtiest, roughest, least skilled tagger in the business, must’ve saved an umpire’s life in his early career.” – brilliant call! I don’t think I’ve heard a better, more accurate statement all week in the media.

    Just regarding Varcoe – he was never the weak link in our back line, perhaps this was a typo? He’s only ever played forward/mid. But yes, at times, he has certainly appeared the least deserving to be there. This year, though, he has been brilliant and is one of our best for the year.

    Interesting that you put Josh Hunt in your votes. I thought our defence was greatly underrated. Yes, Saints outscored Geelong, but that was the fault of the midfield and fowards. Lonergan absolutely annihilated Kosi, Milburn had arguably his best game this year playing as a loose defender and yes, Josh Hunt is finally playing himself back into form following his knee reconstruction.

    Gutsy effort and a fair call, Callum (lots of people are trying to act like St Kilda weren’t playing rough, unsportsmanlike footy – not that they can be blamed, really. But I seem to remember the losing GF teams of the past few years playing with a bit more grace).

  6. whoops, forgot to close the bold part – only “weren’t” was meant to be bold :S

  7. John Butler says:

    Callum and Susie

    Since the game has been played, one of the ways less talented players have survived against more gifted opponents has been to put them off their game (through many and various ways).

    In this way, the mental capacities of the star players get tested as well as their natural talent, fitness, etc.

    Now I don’t particularly like Baker any more than you do, but part of the tone of discussion this week seems to imply that players like him don’t belong. I think modern AFL footy already excludes enough “types” already.

    Personally, a game where the best players were free of some sort of challenge by less gifted, but more determined, opposition would ultimately be a more boring one.

    Not that playing outside the rules should be encouraged. But the rules should be clear, and enforced consistently. That was what was missing on Friday night.

    BTW, some nice stuff in that piece Callum. Keep ’em coming. :)

  8. David Downer says:

    “I seem to remember the losing GF teams of the past few years playing with a bit more grace”

    I also recall opposition supporters playing with a bit more grace after a DEFEAT also.

    Enough said. Or I may blow my top right orff!

    DD

  9. Dave, sorry. I seem to keep saying stuff to set you off! I’ll remain quiet about this game now.

  10. David Downer says:

    Susie there does some to be an amazing inbalance between Catters and Sainters at the almanac. I feel like I’m rowing my own lonesome Moorabbin boat!

    But we may as well call a truce at 1-1 after extra time.

    StKilda won the game; Baker, for all his mirth and your disapproval, was ultimately the big loser.

    …but before the week moves on and we do it all again, I am penning my own piece on the game, so watch out as I take it to penalty kicks!

  11. I look forward to reading it! And good job standing up for your team! I really don’t have anything against the Saints, other than the fact I’m a Cats fan :p

    Though Baker, in my opinion, deserved 9 weeks for four incidents, he’s clearly the AFL’s whipping boy. I could name half a dozen players each week who should be receiving the same treatment, but the MRP have let it slide. A bit of consistency, people, otherwise the player’s will never know what’s allowed and what’s not.

    With Baker out, who’s going to step up in the Saints’ defence?

  12. Riewoldt.

    :P

  13. Yes, Josh. Let’s put the best forward in the league into a defensive role, brilliant idea :P

  14. Steve Healy says:

    Zac Dawson, he should be back if needed

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