AFL Round 10 – North Melbourne v St.Kilda: Pilgrim’s Progress

The annual pilgrimage. Most of us have at least one. When the fixture comes out it’s immediately circled with someone’s name attached. My longest serving ‘catch-up-with-a-mate-game’ is the North Melbourne v St.Kilda clash.

I met Jason at a job that has long since fallen off my CV. He was, of all things, a sales rep. Actually, it stands to reason – he has the gift of the gab and uses it mainly to talk about the Shinboners. He held my company’s account and nominally visited to check that my boss was happy with the service. She never had any complaints, so talk turned to last week’s games at breakneck pace.

Isn’t that why we work? The ability to talk footy with a broad church of supporters gives us opportunity to gauge how the season looks from the other side of the fence. Melbourne is alive with workplace insights from the weekend’s action. Tipping comps, fantasy leagues, it’s often hard to fit the other work duties in amongst the important stuff. Some of the best theories ever espoused about footy are made in the tearooms of the nation.

Jas and I catch up infrequently since I left that workplace. We live on opposite sides of the sprawling mass of Melbourne and without the guarantee of work hours contact, it’s hard to find time to shoot the breeze. The easiest way to touch base has always been the knowledge that the Roos will play the Sainters at least once a year.

We’ve seen some cracking games over the journey but the legend of Round 16, ’03 gets brought up every season. A tense and frantic final term, the footy ricocheting from end to end and goals being traded like-for-like was clearly heading for an epic finish. Then Jason’s three year old daughter’s high pitched voice broke the spell-
‘Daddy, I need to go to the toilet.’
Instantly he snapped back-
‘Ones or twos?’
The answer drew a groan of sheer frustration. While they were gone for the long-form pitstop, Fraser Gehrig marked on fifty and kicked truly for his ninth. Seconds later the siren blared to seal a five point Saints win. Dad and daughter arrived to the glorious cacophony of the Marching of the Saints. He looked dejected. The only thing worse than losing a close one is not getting a chance to see how you got beat. Like a blindfolded man facing the firing squad, the cruelty is not entirely connected to the death. The inability to face it, eyes wide open, heightens the suffering.

Needless to say, Sunday evening was not a classic in our tradition. It began in similar vein to ’09, when the Roos kicked seven of the first eight goals and then got mowed down by a relentless Saints lineup at their peak. That game has entered our legend because Jas was running late and we only got to our seats after the opening five goal salvo was over. He missed the highlight package opening, only to sit through the unfortunate denouement. The Kangas lost by 46.

Jason was on time Sunday and the Roos started brightly again. The difference from four years previous was that by kicking eight of the first nine goals, the Roos sent this game to its watery grave. The 2009 Saints were on the verge of greatness, that time has passed.

I now feel Jason’s pain. About all I can take from this game was that I can say I saw Boomer’s 350th. Laying claim to either Montagna or Wells’ 200th seems vaguely pointless, this was Harvey’s day and he made sure he put together a showcase. The era of footy we inhabit plays percentages and shuns, as unnecessary, players taking risks. But, to watch Brent Harvey take the ball and run, selling candy and blowing by defenders until he gets close enough to have a ping at goal makes your heart soar. Boomer clearly got licence to take ’em on and he did, all night long. If you don’t find that exhilarating, perhaps you might question why you bother.

Going into the clash Jason was cynical. The trumped-up charges against North after their collapse against Adelaide clearly got to him. So many near misses this season has created a storm of criticism. The Roos are soft, they can’t finish sides off, they’re pretenders until they learn to be ruthless. He told me firmly that he expected to be tested by the Saints. I knew different. The Saints have hit the metaphysical wall of doubt. After opening the season with a collection of gallant losses, the victory over Carlton finally gave them some reward for effort. Ironically the win also had the effect of giving a stark indication of how incredibly hard this team has had to work for a solitary win. The fall-away last week against the Dogs told me all I needed to know. Mentally the Saints are shot. That, combined with a massive milestone for a club legend and a sense that North needed a ‘statement game’ after the battering they’ve received over last week’s meltdown, gave me a premonition about this game getting ugly. I just didn’t expect it to disintegrate on us so quickly.

Watch enough football and you begin to see patterns emerge. You can’t improve your tipping with it but you do get hunches about how things ‘might’ go down. ‘Statement games’ are hoary cliches that the Herald-Sun love to drum up every few weeks but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. North Melbourne were furious in their effort last week and were bound to be ferocious at the contest this week. St.Kilda were flat and very gettable, this game felt about ready to tip.

Richmond shared the Roos’ plight. The nightmare at the ‘G stirred up too much sediment from seasons past. It is hard to calculate how many statement games the Tiges have played over the past twenty seasons but at a charitable two a year that’s forty big games they’ve needed to be up for. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a team that keeps fluffing their big stage moments and like most footy fans I was frustrated with the lack of fight in the yellow sash last week. It didn’t stop me feeling that the Eagles might be in for a big-time rumble though.

Sometimes the statement is a revelation. Richmond weren’t competitive on Monday night, they were dominant. West Coast hung on in the first quarter but the time spent in the huddle saw a change in the Tiggers that was too much for the Weagles to counter. The second quarter burst was so out-of-the-thin-air, that you hung on until the third stanza got going until you could convince yourself that the Tigers were home. The ruthlessness of the third quarter might make Richmond’s season. By this game, they now measure themselves. If they can stack up to the effort they put into this performance the finals are in their grasp.

Consistency is a thankless muse. She will forsake you any chance she gets. St.Kilda were giving a consistently honest effort with no reward. When that reward came it sucked all the will with it. North let consistent effort slip through their outstretched hands, until finally, they grabbed it. What they do with their success is answered next week and every one after it. Richmond need to find a consistency they can hold- Play with this confidence when the spotlight hits them. If they need to know just how good a side they just beat are, watch them dismantle the Saints this week…..


  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Tough times for Saints, Tom. Legacy of RL maybe.North hit rock bottom the week before, so there was only one way to go ans that was up. Big test for NM this week against GC. I hope we’re not turning into flat trackers.

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