AFL Round 11 – St. Kilda v West Coast: Saints preserve us!

Heartaches by the number, troubles by the score

Everyday you love me less, each day I love you more

Yes, I’ve got heartaches by the number, a love that I can’t win

But the day that I stop countin’, that’s the day my world will end

– Harlan Howard

 

Sometimes barracking for the Saints seems a lot like expecting Charlie Brown to finally kick the football Lucy always pulls away. Tantalizingly close but always elusive. We all have those moments. Mine came in my one season of varsity high school soccer – a crossing pass directly to me with an empty left side of the net beckoning, against the No. 1 team in the state no less. They hadn’t allowed a goal so far all season. Hopped in front of my boot. Swing and a miss. We lost 8-0. If I’d scored (and I didn’t have a goal all season), what might have happened? (Ah, we’d probably have lost 8-1. But you never know.)

I revisit it far too much, and it came to mind again after Sunday night’s game against West Coast at Etihad. I could empathize with Nick Riewoldt’s failed toe poke, Rhys Stanley’s miss wide right and Beau Maister’s wide left. Even Joey Montagna’s inexplicable failure from 10 meters out. And then Maister’s desperate chase toward Eric Mackenzie, only to trip and fall helplessly to the turf and watch the winning goal be slotted.

Five heartaches in less than a half hour. The 2013 Saints are more efficient in dashing hopes and dreams than their recent predecessors.

This game had started differently. After last week’s bashing by the Kangaroos, the Saints came out with unbridled ferocity and laid 34 more tackles. They surrendered 34 more hitouts but were even on clearances until the fourth quarter. They outhustled the more athletic Eagles all night.

They kicked the first four goals. Although the 24-point lead dissipated to just three by early in the second quarter, the Saints settled and kept the Eagles at arm’s length for the next two-plus quarters. But Dean Cox goaled after a hold by Stanley followed by Riewoldt’s miss. Jack Darling’s goal made it a one-point game, and Cox’s shot left of target leveled the score.

Then came a goal by the Great Conjurer, Stephen Milne, in vintage form all night. He’d scored the first two goals – one on his classic side snap. For his third score, he flubbed an easy chance out front, then stole the clearance with a sideways lunge and booted a score from 50 meters out. The fourth tally broke the deadlock. Limping toward the sideline, he grabbed a loose ball, accelerated past two defenders and slotted the goal – then limped off.

The Eagles evened it off a free kick; Dylan Roberton accidentally hit Matt Priddis in the face. They went ahead on a less satisfying free, when Sean Dempster grabbed and turned Priddis, but instead was called for tackling from behind. Milne had one more trick to turn, getting behind the Eagles’ defenders to receive a kick from David Armitage – marvelous all night – and even the scores again.

Then came Stanley’s miss, Montagna’s miss, Maister’s miss and tumble. Rat-a-tat-tat. Another free against Ahmed Saad in the dying moments sealed the Saints’ fate.

It’s odd how a 2-9 team – with a finals chance a distant memory in early June – can lift your spirit and crush your heart at the same time.

I’m completely at fault. I refuse to accept the fatalistic attitude of my friend Dave, whose favorite team is baseball’s Chicago Cubs. Last championship 1908. Last World Series 1945, the year a local tavern owner (from the “Billy Goat”) was barred from bringing his goat to the ballpark and put a curse on the team. (We could have used him against the Cats in 2009 and Pies in 2010.) Dave always expects the worst. Leads are meant to be dissipated; victories will inevitably be followed by defeats; a players’ hot streak means an injury is imminent. What’s the point?

Yet I must remember that with the Saints in Full Rebuilding Mode, it’s not so much the result as the journey. The change room wasn’t despondent; the coach wasn’t sullen. Life goes on. Maybe this game will prove a turning point of some kind. You never know. I got my chance for redemption four years later, in a university A-league intramural semifinal. Crossing pass to the left wing, empty net in front, bam! This time I didn’t miss. The only goal I ever scored in competition, and the game-winner no less. And we won the championship the next week.

I need to revisit that more often. Bring on the Dees!

ST. KILDA          4.2   6.7   9.10  11.14 (80)
WEST COAST   3.5   4.7   7.9    12.12 (84)

GOALS
St. Kilda: Milne 5, Maister 2, Stanley, Dennis-Lane, Riewoldt, Saad.
West Coast: Darling 3, Priddis 2, Mackenzie 2, Embley 2, Naitanui, S. Selwood, Cox.

BEST

St. Kilda: Milne, Armitage, Riewoldt, Montagna, Maister

West Coast: S. Selwood, Priddis, Darling, Embley, Mackenzie.

MALARKEY VOTES: S. Selwood 3, Milne 2, Armitage 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. Good review, we will be preserved and then pickled. At least the Saints have fans with humour. We need it.

    I was happy because we played better for most of the game. I’m taking my pleasure in baby step increments.

    Yvette

  2. DBalassone says:

    Nice piece Glenn. Good to see Milne back in vintage form. Is it just me, but is he looking more & more like Bon Scott every day? Put a shaggy 70s mullet on Milney and I reckon he’d be a dead ringer!

  3. I had never made the connection, but there’s certainly a resemblance. And maybe it’s my American sensibility, but I LOVE Stephen Milne, warts and all. Colorful history, quirky to a fault, magical and mystifying, capable of the incomparable and indefensible and a truly unique player in footy history. At his worst he’s maddening. At his best — like Sunday night — he’s Merlin.

  4. DBalassone says:

    Agreed Glenn. I’ve always loved sneaky forward pockets. Have a look at this picture below and tell me that’s not Stephen Milne’s devilish grin after a typical snap around the corner…

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/Music/The-legend-lives-on-in-a-laneway-to-heaven/2005/02/14/1108229929370.html

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