Cuba provides early omen for the Saints’ night.

By  David Downer

Ancient Chinese military general Sun Tzu once remarked: “choose your battles wisely”. Indeed mate.

When supporters size up the fixture release in October, there is a general pecking order of matches to consider as “interstate dirty weekend away” material. Who is most worthy of your hard-earned $39 discounted Tiger/Virgin/Jetstar fare?

Not high on my wishlist is “Puddelay at Foopbawl Park” (think Tony McGuiness with overt SA twang saying that at pace). For one, Port have been the Saints quintessential bogey side for the last decade. Second, whilst Adelaide may present itself as all “city of churches” and “flat track batting paradise” under blue skies in Summer, the contrast to Footy Park on a wet and windy Saturday night couldn’t be more stark. A healthy quaddie of misery includes the Berlin wall/Eastern bloc concrete facade; an “off to the Gulag” style bus ride to get there; West-End draught – that you can’t even drink in your seat; and a crowd demographic that is questioned by, of all people, a Collingwood President. Outside of finals trip exemptions, it’s now a brave voyage for just the hardest of die-hards.

I’d like to think the St. Kilda back office don’t actively request the Port “away” fixture either, but this seems to be an annual Anzac round staple now – surely its more than just coincidence the Last Post rings out for the Saints amidst the backdrop of fence panels screaming “Foodland – the mighty South Aussies”. Maybe internally there’s a “Barry Brooks Super Vobis Bonus”, or a “Brent Guerra Perpetual Pre-Rug Jug” we’ve missed along the way? Whilst the guaranteed Port @ Port clash is clearly an oversight for the Saints current administrators, I am hopeful that Officeworks Moorabbin’s late night trading hours were not neglected in such fashion last Thursday. Stockpiling some industrial-strength shredding equipment might be a handy precaution given recent events – those B.Waldron salary cap-itulation paw prints may just be buried somewhere under the Ian Drake Junior Development Pavillion. Ken Wood if you’re listening – er, don’t look there.

Back on the road, despite shirking the 7.5 hour drive to Adelaide for all reasons above, I was heading in the right direction over the Westgate earlier. Yes, Westgate, not “Westlakes” – too far. We fronted for another “curtain raiser” – cue another VFL intro – with Sandringham taking on the Bulldogs affiliate Williamstown, albeit a week in advance. The main game is this Friday night. Under a roof. An environment that couldn’t be more different to what confronted messrs McEvoy, Stanley, Minson and Hill on Saturday. Grounds like Willi, anchored directly on Point Gellibrand, are subject to mother nature’s unadulterated mercy. Today had turned on the usual tornado-like conditions gusting feverishly towards the “Nick Bracks Stack” end.

Pure footy coal-face supporting like this provides a nice balance to the comfort – and sterility, of “the roof”. It actually feels invigorating and good for your “footy soul”. You get the best of both worlds if you include some VFL in your repertoire.

Having said that, the short walk from foreshore car-park to the Willi front gate was not without its struggles. It was some juggling act.Camping chairs – tick. Exuberant oversized German shepherd – tick. Limping overweight Chihuahua – tick. Then travel rug, two more bags, Best Bets flailing in one hand, crackling transistor tuned to 927 in the other. Oh and we better get a Record too – an absolute necessity at VFL matches, particularly when you’ve got blokes wearing digits that read straight from the Gold-FM playlist – 60′, 70’s, 80’s.Of course, there’s always someone guaranteed to be wearing the hallowed “69”.

After successfully negotiating the entrance traps with all accounted for, I could hear the soundtrack of life playing the “Odd Couple” theme as we traipsed around the outer to take up “a good spot”. Ba-dup-ba-dup-ba-dahhh, bup-ba-dah …yeah you know the rest. The unlikely double-act of german shepherd (Jack “Cuba” Klugman) and Chihuahua (Tony “Daisy” Randall) sharing company always draws quizzical looks. It ultimately requires us to explain, force laugh, and respond to the usual “he could eat that one for breakfast” et al routines from wag after wag queuing up to shatter the “comic genius” richter scale.

We were fortunate to be camped at the scoring end. By final siren, it had greedily amassed an amazing 18.14 to just 0.5 down the other – as pronounced a goal advantage as there could ever be. Entering the final term the Zebra’s lead by 32pts. It didnt seem enough. With rain and chill now complementing the wind, half the crowd called it quits for the day. I couldn’t tell if Willi’s “favourite son” Mark Philippoussis was amongst them. And the Seagulls, predictably, started to rattle home with the aid of the typhoon at their backs.

Whilst we were praying for the Zebra’s to just “hang on”, unfortunately in the outer, Jack Klugman couldn’t. At around the 20 minute mark the big man brazenly marched towards the forward flank fence to “back one out” (speaking of the Poo?). For me this was a footy first. And his timing impeccable, with boundary throw-in just meters away and crowd peering in said direction. Whilst Cuba then cantered off suitably relieved following “some of his best work”, I on the other hand, with glowing hue from both Willi wind-burn and obvious shit-shovelling embarrassment, obligingly cleaned up the mess – requiring two bags no less, yet another first. Note to self: Omit “a bit of leftover soup” from the big man’s breakfast bowl in future. The positive – at least that steaming hot pile wasn’t dumped on the playing arena during the 3/4 time address, now that would be “uncomfortable”.

Off field canine chicanery aside, back on the park, after some telling “match-saving” grabs from McEvoy and Pattinson, the hooter finally trumpets and Sandringham, after leading all day, deservedly hang on by a solitary point. The Zebs are off to an unexpected 3-0 start, and sitting a crisp clear top as the only unvanquished. Oh, and as for our Tommy Walsh – he did a fine job this week, to be sure, to be sure.

The post-match pack-up routine then involved carrying our poor lame Daisy back to the car, Queen of Sheba style – and with the joys of victory upon us, she certainly felt a whole lot lighter – as did my manhood you can imagine. Cradling a chihuahua as a fashion accessory may work wonders for Paris Hilton, but not for early 30-ish married blokes at windswept suburban footy venues.

Homeward bound to catch the Saints in action and complete the footy daily double.

Although a “review” via a recently out-of-date plasma isn’t overly authentic – which to be fair has never stopped Billy B on the Sunday Footy Show giving us his gilt-edged match insights (it is impressive building a media career based on the words “frothies” and “knackers”), I did figure that watching the box would help alleviate my “who are these blokes?” affliction when it comes to non-Victorian teams. But by the last quarter, even with the aid of a fully functioning volume button, I struggled to distinguish my Grays from my Surjans and my Boaks from my Logans.

Now granted it’s taken some time warming into actual match descriptives here, but let’s face it, ’twas a “less said, the better” type affair.

When even the commentary crew themselves concede defeat at half-time with: “well, at least it’s a contest”, you know there wont be many blokes disappointed they couldn’t quite weasel out of dinner plans to stick around for this one. I’d be surprised if Channel 10’s pre-match Kosi “montage” re-inforced that.

The match highlights were highlighted by the lack thereof. Apart from the obvious – Milne’s freakish at-pace under-pressure boundary line hack out of mid-air in driving rain – ball circumventing like a spinning top, then kicking back “Boof Lehmann part-time gentle off-break” style to wobble through (note SA-based analogy, awesome). Milne’s goal was actually the epitome of St. Kilda’s scoring chances that night – most seemed borne out of their backside. They barely threatened registering a “major” of any flow or cohesion all night. The “set play” goal book was lost in transit.

Port had plenty of chances and frittered them away. They should have won by more. Their intensity was up, the Saints were a “bit off”. It was only fleeting individual efforts that kept us in it. Schneider took the baton early, who passed on to the Frenchman, who passed it to …and there the silence is deafening. BJ, our best kick, hadn’t had one the first hour – yet some blue-chip “handy-work” had him planted amongst our best.

And credit where credit’s due – that “little bloody Rodan(t)” was everywhere. Despite his elf-like stature, he played as though he was the U/16 beating up on the U/12’s. Dancing, weaving, bucking, baulking. You could tell he loved every minute of it. I’ll admit that his astonishingly quick return from that mythical German-engineered knee reco failed to tweak my emotions during the heat of battle. Every “what a great football story” churned out from Walls, Lane and Darcy just resulted in a “oh, get stuffed” from the couch. But in the cold hard light of the post-match – watching Raceday Recap on TVN interspersed by the odd Kardashian, I begrudgingly acknowledged his efforts : “yep, good on him”. And he seems to tick that all-important football measure of “being a good bloke”.

On a brighter note for Saints fans, we can now bid adieu to that cursed “streak pressure” that preyed on our mental frailties circa mid-July last year. It’s time to readjust to footy season normality where “the loss” is part and parcel of a season, and bad weeks can and do happen every now and again.

Hmmm, let’ see if that sort of Zen-Master transcendental crap holds up if we’re 4-3 in a fortnight.

Perhaps best I leave the proverbs and phooty philosophy to me old China-plate” Sun Tzu.

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