Round 1 Geelong v St-Kilda: Winning Ugly

Tennis journeyman Brad Gilbert penned a ripping book called Winning Ugly. His tome details all manner of methods used to conquer more talented opponents. He concentrates on the mental rather than the physical. He details myriad ways to finagle. Gilbert didn’t have the panache of a McEnroe (although after beating him in three sets at the Garden in 1986, McEnroe took a six-month sabbatical from the game). Nor did he possess a killer punch. Gilbert (no relation to Sam) mostly scrapped and scraped his way to victory.

Geelong’s last-gasp one-point victory over St Kilda was in some sense Gilbertian. Not in a deceitful way but because Geelong eventually found a way.

And although in some sense compelling, the bottom line is that Friday’s match was an ugly spectacle. Goals were as rare as measured political comment emanating from Glenn Beck’s mouth.

The congestion created by this Ring a Ring O’Rosie style of football was on a par with Sukhumvit Road traffic. I don’t know enough about the tactics of the game to accurately apportion blame. It must however be noted that when such imbroglios and stalemates develop, St Kilda seem to be a leading and willing dance partner.

It was said during the Nixon and Fevola-dominated off-season that Geelong were recalibrating their game-plan. The word on Pakington Street was that Geelong would handball less and adopt a slightly more defensive and pragmatic outlook. Friday’s evidence suggests that old habits will be hard but not impossible to break.

St Kilda’s ‘cocker’, who starts too many sentences with so and talks too much corporate-speak, vowed a more attacking modus operandi. I suspect this promise is conditional and will only be activated when St Kilda find themselves four goals down against a pacey opposition with a potent forward line. Read against Collingwood, the clear competition yardstick. Essendon should continue to trouble them.

Geelong’s forwards have struggled in recent games at the MCG. Booting twelve goals in a game has become an asymptote. Cricket sage Richie Benaud once said of Mark Waugh that if he made a century it’s a bonus. In code, Richie expected Waugh to get 30 or 40 and then get out. In a similar vein, I suspect Chris Scott’s expectations of Tom Hawkins will be quite low. If he takes a mark and kicks a goal, it’s a bonus!

St Kilda’s recent scoring efforts, like Geelong, are worrisome. Chronologically diminishing MCG returns of nine and seven in the 2010 grand finals and Friday night’s paltry six sausage rolls suggest they’ll never win the big dance until this issue is addressed.

Is it possible to be too well-drilled and regimented?

Is individual flair being stymied by Ross Lyon?

On many occasions throughout Friday’s match, the dense cluster of players within close proximity of the ball resemble wood engravings and paintings depicting games played in Richmond Paddock in the 1860’s.

In the first half, both defences are parsimonious.

Scarlett, the veteran toe-poker, proves that he is still crucial to Geelong’s fortunes. He sets the formation of the Geelong defence and springboards many a sortie forward. Enright and Taylor are ideal first-officers. Harry continues to be an outstanding advertisement for the positive benefits of the padma-asana and also for cognac.

At times, Riewoldt behaves like a seagull teased by a chip-wielding child who threatens but never throws the chip. When Riewoldt kicks for goal, the ball still wobbles in the drop. This is despite the exaggerated head-over-the-ball method first seen under pristine conditions at Docklands during the pre-season.

Joel Corey kicks well and moves well. He seems rejuvenated. Youngsters, Duncan and Menzel, look to have bright futures. Both appear to be clever footballers. I like this trait in a player.

Halfway through the third stanza, St Kilda leads by twenty-one points. Geelong lament on 1.9.15. It’s not through lack of effort that they wallow on such a low score. St Kilda looks home. They control and dictate the rhythm of the contest.

Persistence, self-belief, the sudden creation of (and ability to find) space and quick ball movement is finally rewarded with three Geelong goals in about five minutes. Joel Corey’s set shot catalytic major from a tight angle is a cracker.

Wojcinski sharks the pack and streams into an open goal. Wojcinski’s toe is crucial to Geelong’s 2011 season. Ditto Varcoe. Young Duncan’s strong-bodied one-pawed mark and conversion is made especially sweet because he outpoints arch-villain Baker.

Unexpectedly, Geelong trail by a point at the final change.

Jimmy Bartel is a great, great player. Not great in the Ablett sense. But great because he possesses such a well-rounded skill set. He is the consummate footballer.

He’s a superb mark for his size.

He’s smart.

He tackles ferociously.

He can dish out the clever knock-on or quick handball in traffic.

He always stars against St Kilda.

His quelling of a rampant Lenny Hayes in the 2009 GF is the stuff of legend. If Bartel played for Geelong in the 1960’s, he’d have been a regular representative for Victoria in both football and cricket. Jimmy is also a seriously talented cricketer.

And we now know that he can snap freakish left-boot goals from the boundary line. In this sense, he momentarily embodies G Ablett Sr. Gary kicked a few on the left boot from that pocket.

Bartel’s impossible-to-reconcile snap puts Geelong five points up.

With scores level, Varcoe applies a perfect tackle five metres directly in front and isn’t rewarded. For younger readers, WTF!

With twenty seconds to go, Geelong trail by five points.

Emotion has been steadily building for awhile. Suddenly it erupts. I laugh heartily when Mooney, after giving off the handball to the timeless Milburn (super-sub) for the sealing major, starts fist-pumping wildly like a demonic heavyweight boxer. The fist-pumping possibly starts even before Dasher gains possession of the ball.

Mooney would be a terrible poker player.

After seeing vision of the coaches’ box, the same might be said of Chris Scott.

Still, I think it’s better to have somebody fresh in charge who occasionally acts like Tony Jewell rather than somebody who is dispassionately munching away on a salad roll.


  1. John Butler says

    Superb Flynny.

    You’re right about the Bartel kid. He can play.

    And you’re right about the Saints. A disappointingly conservative showing from them.

    The way you’ve described it, much of my (extremely forgettable) sporting career had a Gilbertian edge to it.

  2. Flynny – a wonderful finish to a wonderful day. It was ugly watching Geelong get there, but get there they did.

    Jimmy Bartel is a star. I also liked the boy Taylor Hunt, the man with no first name.

  3. Andrew Fithall says

    Very well reported PF. I went to the game with Helen and as I value our relationship I supported Geelong (but did make it known to others nearby that Collingwood was my team). During the game a St Kilda supporter good naturedly said to me that looking at the two teams playing, I must have been quaking in my boots! Friday night’s spectacle is a game I would travel a very long way to avoid in future. I lay the blame with St Kilda and that man who starts too many sentences with “So”. Collingwood play St Kilda twice this year – I forecast St Kilda will win the game played at Docklands which suits their style more than the G.

    I did say to Helen during the third quarter that rarely is a team’s score more than double the opposition but the losing team is still a good chance to win. At Friday lunch we heard about one Blake who wasn’t playing – Geelong must be grateful that the one who was playing was so generous with an ill-directed kick that resulted in the turnover that resulted in the goal that resulted in the win.

    I missed Bartel’s goal because I was out the back watching Black Caviar on the TV. Radio 774 also missed it because they had taken G Miles’ call of the race.

    T Hawkins is a worry. He is like a big puppy – his size indicates he should be capable of more; his actions indicate he is not.

  4. Richard Jones says

    AND Flynny wot about Mitch Duncan ??

    We’ve got a good ‘un right there.

    His one-handed, falling to the deck mark against that little prick Baker was sensational.

    In addition, he was the only multiple goalkicker on the park.

    Jimmy is great, Corey has clearly had an excellent pre-season after a terrible, injury-ridden 2010 and just as well Dasher defied all talk [maybe coercion] about hanging up the boots.

    Big query is …. will he be the super-sub all season ?? Or will Scotty and brains trust place someone else in the green vest, depending on the opposition ??

  5. johnharms says


    Hadn’t read you piece before posting mine. The nineteenth century form of the game stuck out like the colonisation of Africa (I also made that reference!)

    Loved the read PJF.

    Who did you ahve in you best? Wojcinski seemed to be a creative force for the Cats. Hayes for the Saints. I didn’t notice Bartel until late in the game. Enright and Scarkett were solid. Harry reliable.

    Tommy is a worry, but more so if the games are played in that way. He was lost (and knew it. To use your term WTF)

  6. Peter Flynn says

    Thanks Punters,

    I hear that the greatest irrelevancy in Australian cricket has just made himself even more irrelevant.

    S. Tait has retired from 50-over cricket to concentrate on T20.

    It’s a better earner than being 4th ruck at Geelong I suppose.

    Pity this retirement decision didn’t happen a couple of months ago.

    This distinctive Friday match has produced the most number of reports and many concerns have been aired.

    As JTH pointed out, there were some great games on the weekend. Collingwood play a ripping brand of footy. The Melb v Syd last quarter was brilliant.

    RJ, M. Duncan promised quite a bit last year as well.

    AF, the irony that the Black Caviar benefit, running about 10 minutes late because of the Lady Lynette protest (she was robbed), coincided with the game highlight.

    Bartel can be unobtrusive. Therein lies the genius.

    My best:

    Bartel (3)
    Wojcinski (2)
    Scarlett (1)

    L Hayes is also a great, great player. In many ways, similar to Bartel.

  7. Peter Flynn says
  8. On another point I thought Scott’s reaction to the win was fantastic. Talk about motivated!

  9. Peter Schumacher says

    Re “PF” He is just a silly old bugger.

  10. Steve Fahey says

    Great stuff Flynny, love the metaphor of Brad Gilbert

    In answer to to your (largely rhetorical) questions :

    Is it possible to be too well-drilled and regimented? NO – Brisbane 2001-2003 had a simple game plan which everyone knew, but did it well enough to beat the rest. They did have flair e.g. Aka, Darryl White, but the flair came from within the game plan.

    Is individual flair being stymied by Ross Lyon? YES YES YES YES YES. Bloody hell, he didn’t play Sam Gilbert forward because Sam asked to go back after a couple of quiet practice games forward. Let Riewoldt, Goddard, Hayes, Montagna off the chain and see what is possible.

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