Round 21 – St Kilda v Geelong: When a draw is as good as a win, when a ball goes astray in the last

Etihad Stadium

Saturday 22nd August 2015, 7:20pm

As the season draws to a close and St Kilda Football Club sit an improved 13th on the ladder, the noise of who makes the finals and who doesn’t is just background chatter. I am more engaged in the Western Bulldogs’ pull than any other team. Richmond is the other that I’d like to be up there in the end. Let’s share the happiness and pain around. With only one ultimate winner, 7 of the 8 will be suffering post-grand-final or final experiences. Saints fans are still in recovery, but we are gaining our sense of humour back.

Come Saturday night, I am joined at the Dome by Denise, and John Harms. Denise, with her hand-knitted Doggies scarf, just came for a great game, as it turned out. John to catch up and enjoy sitting with me on my journey. Peter Flynn, another writer and character from the world of the Footy Almanac, was our extra guest after quarter time, and once all were introduced to Uncle Bob and Gary (and my Saints members all around worded up that I had Cats guests), we were all good to go.

The biggest news of the night was our new inclusion, Jason Holmes. He’s the third American to play AFL, but the first “born and raised” in the USA, who has learned the game from scratch in just two years and played so well in the VFL that he’s earned a callup. We were ready to see how this experiment would work. Uncle Bob, Rina and I chatted to him at the season launch two years ago; he was so sweet and intelligent and funny to talk to. We remembered being very impressed by his maturity. It’s a long way for a young man to travel to have a go at something so entirely different.

We also had seven inclusions and seven out with injury, a huge change in our game list for the night. The game started with both Riewoldt and Gilbert outside the centre square on the wing, and Jason taking and winning the very first tap out. We, the Sainters, all cheered. It was going to be a great night.

That tap out led to great ground work by Holmes, another feature of the night, a grab by Gilbert (in best game I can remember him playing) to Jack Steven to Hickey, a quick hand pass to Minchington who goaled. It all took less than 30 seconds. Thirty seconds of domination.

And then it happened again, with Holmes winning the next tap, although Cats ran away from centre with the ball. Holmes is in the contest again, it is passed around our defence before more quick play sends it forward for Minchington to goal yet again.

Saints fans were up and about. Holmes was an instant cult figure. Every time he did his “first” of something, we’d cheer and be happy. We keep pushing forward. Geelong seem to be in shock. Josh Bruce, our other new Saints love of 2015, scoops one goal from the scrap. We are three up with a scoreless Geelong. My guest John is quiet; either that or I am totally zoned into game and cannot hear any mutterings if there are any.

Saints keep pushing; Membrey marks from a tight angle, and brings joy with another goal.

Thus began the game, and marked the moment when the Cats switched on. There are suddenly attempts at keeping off the Saints and they work. To John’s relief, and our disappointment, Vardy goals.

The Cats are back in the game with better passes and movement around the ground. Hawkins gets a free and kicks accurately and we think, this is more what was expected. Gilbert steps up with the next goal; we are seeing a bigger, tougher Gilbert who is desperate for his team. We are liking this new, improved, old player. Welcome Gilbert. We can put up with some errant passes but if you keep playing like this, you are in.

Saints are attacking and missing, the points are accumulating. It doesn’t help that Steven kicks it straight to Geelong and Hawkins ends up with his second.

Words like “fanatical,” “pressure,” “momentum” and “space” are being used by commentators (in my ear from the radio and later on replay).

Geelong is all of these in the dying moments, with Mackie and Taylor goaling, leaving Saints in the lead by three points at first quarter.

We stand up as John gets Flynn who is standing up the back of our area. He sits in front of us to enjoy the arm wrestle.

In the second quarter, Hickey starts off the march with a good mark and goal. With all the excitement and the radio in one ear, I only hear momentary comments from Flynny and John. I am so absorbed in this game.

Over the rest of the evening, two Saints women in front are less happy. Because they are my friends, I assumed it wouldn’t stir the pot to have John and Flynny here. I have forgotten how hard it is to have “others” amongst your own.

The game becomes a slugfest. First Vardy goals, then Bruce. Riewoldt is playing great football on the wings, and with everyone else goaling, he isn’t needed up forward.

Stevie J gets one through for the Cats.

With more cheers for his first mark and pass, Holmes has found a football home. Gilbert scores again. Goal for goal it seems.

Stevie J marks from another Geelong attack and casually strolls into an empty goal square only to be mugged by Savage who sped up and tackled, forcing a point. Saints have gone mad.

John and Flynny are laughing, and later on the replay, Stevie J has a smile on his dial as well. It was just such a moment. I don’t think he’ll ever be as casual about a goal stroll again. There is plenty of radio chatter about whether he will play on next year. For my Geelong friends, he will ever be a character of the game and a champion over the long haul. But also one for brain fades.

Hawkins attacks again and goals, and Stevie J does an impossible snap for goal that is perfect.

The Cats are ahead by one point at half time. We are all so engaged in the game and the joy of a real contest that all else fades. St Kilda people were not expecting a win today, but the first two quarters showed such effort and manic drive and skill that we were in it up to our collective eyeballs.

It was my footy mate Rina’s 60th birthday party this night. In her speech, she said I wasn’t present, “because I had a very important literary business to complete at the footy.” The room cracked up apparently. It’s good to have a friend who accepts me and all my madness.

At half time, I bump into David Downer, who will leave early because of a Sunday morning marathon. It is his new thing, and he will miss out on a great second half. I also meet up with Donna F, who picked up her ticket for the West Coast game. Facebook has given us an avenue for organising, and we will be sitting together over in Perth in a few weeks. Now we know what each other looks like, and all about “on sold” tickets, opposition members from Perth selling their tickets via Ticketek for a profit. So we’ll probably be surrounded by Eagles for that game.

Refreshed and relieved, it is back to the fun work of watching the game. Saints have started the scoring each quarter, only to be hunted down in the dying minutes by the Cats. This continues, with Hickey getting our first. Holmes lays his first great AFL tackle and is again cheered. The words “tackle,” “smother,” “harass” and “run” are all over the commentating.

I am noticing Hugh Goddard’s great work in defence. Doesn’t he know he’s new? He is taking on the tough opposition like he’s been doing it for years. He makes a few errors over the night, but his effort is outstanding.

Stevie J misses another one (to groans and humour from my companions), but he makes up for it moments later with a goal that hits the umpire in the head. The lead has changed yet again in the seesaw of a match. For the first time, Geelong gains a better lead with Stevie J getting another goal and proving why he is so beloved by his fans. Gregson pops through another one. Biggest lead again.

Our Nick Riewoldt is on his own in the forward line, something that is spotted as we speed the ball out of our defence into his loving arms for a goal. When Hickey gets a free kick in our forward the scores are level (as there had been a few minor scores along the way.)

Denise says she wants a draw. Treachery from my Doggie-loving sister. Perhaps you can be magnanimous like this when it’s not your team slugging it out in a goalfest in front of us on the ground. She was enjoying the circus. The rest of us wanted a win.

Guthrie plugs one and Geelong lead again, seven points ahead at three-quarter time.

The last quarter has more of the lead changes. With Geelong needing a win to secure a final spot (and not depending on who wins and losses for the next two weeks), there is some desperate footy. For the first time this year, we are being equally tough for the whole game. Minchington and Gilbert goal. Motlop grabs one back and the lead along with it. Newnes makes a great goal after stealing a mark coming out of the Cats’ defence.

With 3½ minutes to go Cockatoo puts Geelong one point up. We are all in heightened states of excitement. It is defended out of Geelong’s forward area again and is hurried back to our forward line, and out of a scrap for possession Savage grabs the ball and wildly kicks towards goal, evening up the score. With 14 seconds to go, Bartel tries to go forward, but Fisher marks and the siren goes.

There is no song, there is no celebration. Cats players and supporters are disappointed; only certain permeations from two must wins and certain teams losing will see them in the eight. Saints players wanted to steal a win, and they almost did and would have, with more accurate kicking. This was a huge game for the Saints. On so many levels.

John and Flynny decide to go continue the night with a drink and perhaps watch some cricket, and we happily head to the bridge and home.

Sitting on the train with Uncle Bob and Garry, we start chatting to the family opposite. There is young Joshua, his sister Sureije and father Ansa, all Saints because, Joshua tells us, his cousins barrack for St Kilda. Members since 2010, this Indian/Australian family become part of the rainbow of supporters that follow the Saints. I tell them I know the Saints song in Punjabi and they think that’s cool.

If St Kilda continue to play like tonight, they will create more happy, chatty supporters travelling home. There will be many more memberships in the future, and perhaps a few more from the USA and New Zealand and around the world as well.

About Yvette Wroby

Yvette Wroby writes, cartoons, paints through life and gets most pleasure when it's about football, and more specifically the Saints. Believes in following dreams and having a go.

Comments

  1. Neil Anderson says:

    There’s a lot to like about St Kilda this year and a lot to look forward to for 2016. Very similar to the Bulldogs progress,, perhaps one year behind in developing a team for playing finals.
    Like the Bulldogs, they only need a couple of key-position players and a ruckman to complement those talented mids and forwards.
    Glad to see you will be barracking for the Bulldogs in the finals.

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks Yvette.

    A memorable evening.

    Saints had intensity, purpose and skill.

    The Holmes story is a ripper.

    Next week a Canadian rucks against an American.

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