Slippery Saints Subdue Cranky Cats

In some ways this was going to be a Grand Final replay; just some.

Certainly, a lot of the usual suspects were there; but a lot weren’t.

It was wet just like last Grand Final day; but the lights were on, and it was Friday.

Most importantly, it was Round 13, not Grand Final day. And unlike their celebrated Round 14 clash last year, this was no battle of unbeaten teams. There was no need for an up and coming challenger to prove their credentials against the champs.

But this undoubtedly was a clash of the league’s true heavyweights of the moment. Despite the claims or pretensions of Collingwood, Fremantle, Hawthorn or Bulldogs, these two sides have a demonstrated record which gives them gravitas the other contenders still lack.

So you might have reasonably expected a preview of greater events to come.

But the general events of the week have left a broader question as to whether things are entirely as they seem. And I must confess to harbouring similar sentiments at the conclusion of this game.

As we settled into the cosy comfort of our living rooms, the wet conditions at the ‘G pointed to a tight, tough battle. So it proved to be early, with possession contested everywhere but in defence, where Sam Gilbert was playing his usual mop up role for the Saints, whilst Milburn and Enright replied in kind for the Cats.

Soon enough, Gazza pounced on a St Kilda error to kick the first goal. An inordinate number of Gazza’s possessions on the night seemed the product of Saints disposal errors. Whether his near presence contributed to the errors occurring, or is simply evidence of his superior reading of the game, was one of many questions left to ponder by night’s end. What was never in question was his ability to find space and extricate himself from tight spots, despite the best attentions of Clint Jones.

Adam Schneider began a big personal night by sliding through a long range shot to reply, and was again the beneficiary when Joel Selwood conceded 50 metres and a goal from the wing. This was the first of many uncharacteristic breeches of Geelong discipline on the night.

With all the discussion concerning Chris Judd during the week, an oracle wasn’t needed to predict taggers would be under a spotlight this weekend. So it was that Cameron Ling found himself conceding several frees to Lenny Hayes for off the ball grappling. This was but one of Ling’s difficulties, as Hayes was threatening a repeat of his Grand Final first half. Ever resolute, the Geelong skipper answered by sneaking forward to score an answering goal of his own.

At ¼ time the scoreboard stood two goals apiece.

After Schneider snapped his 3rd, prompting the overwhelmed Gamble to be replaced with Wojcinski, a pattern set in. Given the wet ground and the fierce contest, scoring was usually facilitated by a quick centre clearance or a 50M penalty. Both sides contributed to the former, as the umpires seemed keen to assert their authority, whilst Selwood was taking charge of proceedings in the latter respect. He repeatedly won the clearances in this term, and the Cats kicked a succession of goals to lead.

Along with Selwood and Ablett’s efforts around the ball, Enright continued to control matters across half back, whilst Milburn had moved forward to make Gilbert accountable. Collectively, the Cats forced the Saints into slow, hesitant ball movement, and they appeared well in control at ½ time, with an ominous 16 point lead in a low scoring affair.

The second half began with the Saints still hesitant moving forward, but importantly dominating clearances and possession, and controlling the tempo of play . After several faltering attacks, Jack Steven marked 25M out. Courtesy of a Milburn penalty, this became a certainty from the goal line. Almost immediately, Milburn missed a handball, only to see Steven mop up and shoot. The sight of Scarlett on the goal line would have momentarily eased Cat anxieties. It came as a shock to see him fan at the ball as though it were a swerving Jabulani, completely missing it.

Suddenly the Saints were away, and the ball remained camped in their forward half. McQualter fed Steven his 3rd, and Schneider kicked his 4th, then gave the ball on to Milne for another. Steven exacted heavy toll for Mackie’s inclination to play fast and loose in defence, whilst Wojo had little more success on Schneider than Gamble.

The Cats barely managed a forward thrust, and when Enright’s last gasp shot was intercepted by Goddard, Geelong were left pondering their first scoreless quarter for many moons.

Still, the margin was only 17 points, and all precedent left you to expect the Cats to lift in the final term.

But as we’ve seen already, this is a week for upset expectations. The Saints really dominated the final quarter, lacking only the ability to deliver a final telling blow on the scoreboard. Fisher was freed to provide defensive rebound, Dal Santo and Montagna continued to rack up possessions as their opponents fell away, and Hayes continued to best Ling. Blake and Gwilt dominated Mooney and Pods all night, with considerable help from team mates and weather. The Cats went down hardly throwing a punch- Stevie J excepted- no goals in the second half.

Now underestimating Geelong is probably as risky a habit to acquire as it is to take Altona red heads for granted. But it seems a pertinent time to wonder if all is as rosy as we presumed in the Cat camp.

To my eyes, this group which has been so famously  united has looked unusually fractious at times this season.  Against both Carlton and West Coast, finger pointing and general grumpiness seemed all too evident. The TV perspective can deceive, but in this game, a sense of frustration and recklessness seemed permanently close to the surface. 50 metre penalties were liberally conceded, and it wasn’t just the fault of officious umps. Stevie J would hardly be the first to feel the urge to clobber Stevie Baker, but a player of his experience really should know better.

It’s not an unreasonable reading of Bomber Thompson in recent months to think he suspects Gazza is heading north at season’s end. If he suspects it, he won’t be the only one, despite whatever party line may be trotted out. This suspicion must be having some effect on the general esprit de corp.

Before the Cat faithful howl me down, I’ll readily concede this is speculative. No one really knows unless they have access to the inner sanctum, which I certainly don’t. But the evidence of my eyes suggests something’s not entirely right. They still have the talent, but do they maintain the unity of purpose?

These may well prove words that I’ll be required to eat. Certainly, the number of significant omissions from the team at present could explain the performance. And it was around this time last season that they looked to be struggling. We all know what happened there. Even if there are “issues” at present, they’ve shown the capacity to overcome them in the past.

But St Kilda won’t be the only ones to take heart from this game. The other contenders will also have taken note. They’ll be thinking this season is far from settled.

St Kilda  2.1  4.3  9.6  10.10 (70)
Geelong  2.2  6.7  6.7  6.10 (46)

GOALS
St Kilda: Schneider 4, Steven 3, Milne 2, Dal Santo
Geelong: Ablett 2, Mackie, Ling, Stokes, Johnson

Votes:  3- Schneider  2- Hayes  1- Selwood

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World’s Most Livable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    JB,

    I won’t howl you down. I agree with your thoughts.

    There certainly has been a degree of crankiness exhibited during those games you mentioned.

    The Saints have been fantastic without Riewoldt.

    It’s up for grabs. Just like it is every year.

  2. “To my eyes, this group which has been so famously united has looked unusually fractious at times this season. Against both Carlton and West Coast, finger pointing and general grumpiness seemed all too evident. The TV perspective can deceive, but in this game, a sense of frustration and recklessness seemed permanently close to the surface.”

    My thoughts exactly. Actually editing a piece I wrote on this. It’s terrible, I can’t even see my beloved Geelong at the moment. Our defenders were arguing like a couple about to divorce.

    In Stevie J’s defence, I’d do more than elbow a guy in the head if he was getting stuck in to my broken finger. He held out as long as he could, but from the ground, I noticed guys like Baker and Blake getting stuck into the Geelong forwards all night.

    Shirt-punches, elbows, niggling … it was disgusting. They played with the worst spirit imaginable.

    St Kilda is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay deep in my bogus bag at the moment.

    As my sister said, the real loser this night was football.

  3. John Butler says:

    PF,

    Is it disturbing to be thinking like a Carlton supporter? :)

    It’s hard to reason why Gazza would delay announcing his decision unless he’s going.

    This has to be having an impact in the camp. It’ll be interesting to watch how they manage.

    Susie,

    Emotions (and controlling them when you need to) are a big part of sport.

    This is precisely why the Gazza situation intrigues- and where Stevie J failed on Friday.

    My sympathies for Stevie J would be greater if I didn’t suspect he broke his finger on Baker’s head earlier. With all the injuries they have, they could do without the holiday he’s earned himself.

    The Saints have unfinished business from last year. I wouldn’t expect them to be holding back.

    I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts.

  4. Apt adding of alliteration there, JB.

    Aside from his two goals, both of which were majestic, Ablett wasn’t a major factor on the match I thought. Sure, he racked up 30 possies as usual, but he hardly dominated, although he was tagged by Clint Jones. In my opinion, Selwood, Schneider, and the midfield trio of Hayes, Dal Santo and Montagna are likely to steal the votes from Gazza here.

  5. John Butler says:

    Adam

    I think Gazza is in the same category as Judd.

    We mark them very hard. Unless they absolutely tear the house down we tend to take them for granted.

    But I don’t disagree with your general assessment. Gazza has had some games this year where he’s racked them up without seeming to have much impact.

    Cheers

  6. David Downer says:

    “Shirt-punches, elbows, niggling … it was disgusting. They played with the worst spirit imaginable. As my sister said, the real loser this night was football.”

    No Susie, the real loser this night wasn’t “football”, it was “Geelong”.

    This is exactly why some of you “poor Catters” are deemed smug and arrogant. Time for a bex and a lie down, and I suggest watching the ’07 and ’09 GF DVD’s to cure your ailments …I’d happily swap places with you with a couple of flags on the shelf.

    Plus a reference to “big bad” Jason Blake to boot! He’ll take that, he’s never been referred to by an opposition supporter …ever. I dont think his “evil tyranny” was quite up there with G.Ablett Snr’s efforts in the ’91 Elim Final knocking out N.Burke in D.Grant in the first qtr however.

    In the words of another fat ex-Catter …”sooky sooky la la”

    Season 2010 alive………….

  7. David Downer says:

    PS – “deep in my bogus bag” is gold though Susie! I’m pinching that!

    And a good even-handed report JB.

    Dave

  8. JB – I disagree – consider yourself howled at. Tom Harley was heard to say recently that the finger pointing on the ground is actually a good thing; it means the players are keeping each other honest.

    A loss is never nice, particularly one where we don’t score a goal in the second half, but the Cats will bounce back no question. Let’s not read too much into it. These blokes have been “up” for about 3 1/2 years now.

  9. John Butler says:

    Dips

    Spoken like a true believer.

    I’m not sure that (very) recent ex players can be relied upon to call it as it really is.

    I’m not so focused on this one performance, which could be explained away by a number of factors- although it will have given a dangerous opponent confidence (see comment #6).

    Rather, it’s the accumulating signs of the season, and the dawning reality of the Gazza situation.

    They have shown themselves to be a resilient group. They’ll need to be.

  10. Dave,

    Much like Mooney, my emotions get the better of me :p

    Cats fans are spoiled, and apt to think our game the best. It’s just hard to accept that a lock-down, soccer-style game is considered “good football”, compared to a free-flowing style.

    But, as Sydney proved in 2005-2006, it can get you into grand finals, and even win them.

    Problem is, I’ve done most of my growing-up in the Geelong-St Kilda young guns rivalry, 2003-onwards. I feel as much love for St Kilda as a Blues fan does for Collingwood. Likewise, I am sufficiently one-eyed.

    Re: Blake. A decade or two ago, his performance would not have been out of place at all. Players would just have to suck it up. But in the modern world of predominantly soft decisions and rules, it was unexpected.

    Hope these two teams get to face each other full-strength in the finals. Mouth-watering prospect if ever there was one.

  11. johnharms says:

    That’s the difference between you and me Susie: I was growing up between 1972 and 1979, and continued to grow up through 1980-81, and then throughout the Ablett snr years.

    I’m a child of the Depression.

  12. John Butler says:

    JTH

    A child of depression, but hopefully not depressed.

  13. Phantom says:

    JTH.

    being a Cats supporter for all those unfulfilled years I was a child of depression.

    The cat nip seems to be working a treat these days.

  14. JB – if you’re drawing your arguments from the accumulating signs of the season then Cats supporters should still be confident (not Carlton misguided arrogant, just confident) that we’ll do OK. After all we’re still on top!! Pretty good accumulation I reckon.

    lol

  15. John Butler says:

    Glad to see you’re not cranky Dips. :)

    I should have thought Carlton arrogance a rather elusive resource of late.

    We’re just keeping our powder dry for the appropriate time.

    Our day will come, mark my words… :)

  16. JB – yep the Blues are cooking up something but this year they might suffer an early master chief elimination. (My kids LOVE that show).

    There are only three things that make me cranky:

    1 – Bad kicking for goal
    2 – FIFA
    3 – wasteful government expenditure.

    So I’m cranky most of the time.

  17. John Butler says:

    Given the penalties just handed down, both clubs are going to be quite cranky this week.

  18. Peter Flynn says:

    I see there is new meaning to the phrase ‘a Baker’s dozen’.

  19. John Butler says:

    PF

    It’s a lot of fuss for want of a few early ump’s whistles. They were too busy pinging Lingy.

    Apparently we can’t expect our umpires to walk and chew gum at the same time.

  20. I think they gave Baker 12 weeks just to have a giggle at the Baker’s dozen joke that could/has been made.

  21. Phantom says:

    Johnson’s hand and groin will be better for three weeks rest. There may be a case of servere and protracted provocation to mitigate the sentence but I think Baker has got the message. The photo and editorial in yesterday’s paper may not have hurt, but the one in today’s certainly will.

    Mooney was not quite ready and it showed.

    The Saints have played their bash and crash card too early (it won’t be a surprise if they meet again this season) and will certainly miss the Baker role for the rest of the season. The broken hand smashing rule is good. That will disrupt some of the game plans from now on.

    And of course the Cats are again officially too old, too slow, too cocky, etc, and have been written off for the fourth season in a row. What’s the big deal?

  22. I’m doing this game for the book and I’ll have something to say about Baker. I thought what Baker did was a disgrace, just as I thought what happened to Reiwoldt against the Lions a few years ago was a disgrace (hitting him as he left the ground with a popped shoulder).

    These actions aren’t tough footy. Its all very well to fight for a win, but doing what Baker did isn’t footy. He’s a bloke with 1/10th the ability of Johnson. We don’t need these blokes in the game. All that stuff went out in the 70s.

    The good, genuinely tough taggers don’t carry on like Baker – ie Cameron Ling.

    The umpires, in not putting a stop to it early, were largely to blame.

  23. David Downer says:

    Apologies for interrupting another edition of “Cat Tales” here…

    ..but speaking of “depressed children” and “sooky sooky la la’s” – I be both of those this morning!

    Cutting to the chase, in the world of “gut-feel” penalties I would have copped “half a dozen” for Baker. As for Johnson the retaliator, I wouldnt care if he only copped a couple – Bakes would sh1t me too.

    Yes Baker has limitied abilities, yes Baker is a niggling pest – but if you think all that’s worth 12 – then Barry Hall’s sentence last year was about 16 weeks too light.

    He’s copping weeks for all the blokes who got off this season amidst the SEN/Hun outroar – and the moral crusaders can finally sing from the pulpit “oh it’s about time”.

    Pity the poor bloke who’s made the scapegoat and “example” for everyone. “Oh it’s only Steven Baker – he’s not that good anyway, load him up”.

    Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  24. John Butler says:

    Phantom

    They’re not too old, or too slow. And they haven’t lost their talent. But the question is are they a house increasingly divided, or will they not allow the Gazza distraction to affect them. They definitely look crankier than they have.

  25. John Butler says:

    Dips

    I would put what happened to Riewoldt in Brisbane in an entirely separate class to this.

    Riewoldt was in the hands of trainers and clearly leaving the ground. As such, he should have been off limits. The league was wrong to let that incident pass.

    Stevie J had returned to the ground as a full blown participant. Baker was entitled to regard him as such. And League precedent from earlier incidents would have led him to believe that hitting SJ’s hand was within the rules (if not the spirit) of the game.

    There’s nothing admirable or “tough” about any of this, but it’s how the game has always been played at times. Considering SJ probably busted his hand hitting Baker earlier, my sympathies for him are limited.

    Neither club should be squealing about the events on the night.

    What should be a matter of complaint, in my view, is the usual shambles of a way the league deals with these issues.

    If the umps were on top of this early on, none of this would have got out of hand. Instead, they stood by and watched it all. If they don’t act, that implies consent. For the match review panel to then turn around and hand out these penalties is a joke.

    On football matters, the AFL continues to be all over the shop.

  26. JB – was Judd’s elbow into the eye of Pavlich in the spirit of the game? Did you sympathy lie with Pavlich’s cut cheek bone or Judd’s red elbow?

  27. David Downer says:

    JB,

    Couldnt have articulated that any better. Best response I’ve seen in all forms of media (and otherwise).

    DD

  28. David D,

    Cat Tales; interesting.

    Geelong looked like the breed from the Isle of Man in the second half last Friday night. Everything appeared to be missing.

    Smart call on that Sookey La La business. That’s what my business is called. LALLA Horticultural Services and I am sookying about the Cats this week.

  29. John Butler says:

    The Judd incident is just further evidence to the point.

    That made no sense either. But seeing I don’t think his alleged “gouging” incident last season was worth 3 weeks (unless giving stupid hung over pressers is an offence), there’s a certain karmic balance overall.

    Players are paid lots of money to win in professional sport. Coaches live or die by their results. Fans demand success. We can argue about whatever vision of “spirit” we like, but until we put robots out on the field to play, people will contravene it in the heat of the moment. People are imperfect (even Juddy).

    Umpires are there to preserve order and protect participants from those imperfections, as well as run the game. The judiciary are to deal with offences laid down by the laws of the game, with which the umpires are meant to be acting in accordance. If the umps are allowing acts which the judiciary later deem to be hanging offences, then you don’t have a system, you have a shambles.

  30. John Butler says:

    PS: Dips, which one of us sounds crankiest now? :)

  31. JB – yes I sound the crankiest – sorry.

    Now, about Judd’s eye gouge last season he should have got six weeks!………………

  32. John Butler says:

    Dips

    None of this removes the players’ responsibility for their own actions. The umps didn’t make Baker niggle, or Stevie J decide to clobber him.

    But if the umps acted early on what was obviously happening, none of the players would now be in as much strife. An important part of their job is to stop things getting out of hand where possible. In this game, that should have been very possible.

    But the Geisch won’t be copping any weeks over this.

  33. Dave,

    re: Barry Hall last year….

    I wish people would stop comparing Baker’s 9/10/12 with Hall’s 7.

    Hall got 7 weeks for one report.

    Baker got an accumulated 9 weeks for FOUR SEPARATE INCIDENTS.

    And my question – because I honestly don’t know this – was the interference with Johnno’s hand in play? Going for a marking contest or trying to win the ball in a pack? Because if it was, then I agree the AFL were wrong. But if it were off the play or not in a contest – I dunno about you, but I can’t think of the last time I saw a defender deliberately going for the one hand away from the contest. Sides, yes. Arms – occasionally. Hands? Never.

  34. John Butler says:

    Susie

    It was a reverse situation of forward niggling defender, but Tate Pears went into the Dreamtime Match with an injured hand, which Jack Riewoldt promptly started whacking before the first bounce.

    This drew a free kick at the time, but no further consequence, because the paying of the free kick stopped it. As such, Baker would have presumed that, once the umpires weren’t paying frees, he was effectively “all clear” in that regard.

    I’m not trying to defend Baker’s tactics (or those of other taggers), but the fact is the game has tolerated some amount of this forever. Are the AFL’s administrators and judiciary now saying that this sort of stuff is forbidden? I doubt it. They’re just reacting to a particular incident. That’s all they ever do- react.

    We’ll see where their attentions are focused in a month’s time.

  35. Clearsighted says:

    Not all taggers use Baker’s tactics. Whilst Ling was racking up free kicks and 50m penalties against him, the umpires failed to pick up on the distrubing tactics of Baker (whacking away at Stevie J’s hand – which was injured in the first quarter), didn’t notice the treatment being given to Selwood all game, and ignored Fischer’s hit to Bartel’s injured elbow as he was leaving the ground for treatment.
    It appeared that these measures were given sanction by the coaching staff of St Kilda as they continued throughout the game. Until Friday night, I believed Hawthorn the only team to rejoice in ‘unsociable’ footy.

  36. I’ve actually changed my stance, JB. Good point about Riewoldt. Yes, this game was under the spotlight and so the MRP felt they had to react. If only the umpires on the night had been competent, things would not have gotten so ugly.

    Not to say the umpires were entirely deplorable, but if they’d actually been observing the game and exerting their authority, players would have taken the hint. As it was, players saw the umpires saw what was happening and decided not to act. This gave the players the green light to keep going, only to find out later the MRP had a different opinion to the officiators at that game.

    Still, things are as they are, and I don’t think anyone is entirely happy.

Leave a Comment

*