Round 7 – GWS v St Kilda: We Haven’t Got the Close One

1.45pm, Saturday 4 May 2019

Manuka Oval, Canberra

by William Westerman

 

It’s a curious oddity that when AFL games at Manuka Oval aren’t deliberately trying to give spectators a commodified ‘match day experience’, the actual match day experience is pretty enjoyable. While probably just a wistful and nostalgic yearning for an Australian football experience that never truly existed, there’s something very satisfying about having a simple day out at the footy. And for all of its other glaring faults, Canberra really knows how to do Saturday afternoon football well. The Round 7 game between local[sic] team Greater Western Sydney and St Kilda was played in perfect conditions (sunshine with mild cloud cover and a slight breeze) and on a pristine playing surface.

Befitting the more traditional vibe, there was a concurrent game at the MCG – Melbourne v Hawthorn – and my quick pre-game drink at the Kingo invoked the feel of attending an inner-city pub near a suburban ground in Melbourne. All we needed was a good game, replete with bag-kicking key forward, to complete the occasion. I went along as part of the group of five, some keen to see the game, others just enjoying a day out. We parked ourselves at the northern end behind the goals, good for not having the sun in our eyes but bad for being able to see the scoreboard. The crowd of over 12,000 was a healthy representation of both local GWS supporters and St Kilda fans, with a smattering of interested neutrals like ourselves. Yet any brief sense that this was a Saturday afternoon of yesteryear was shattered by the blaring sound system right behind us – for better or worse we can’t escape being in 2019.

Going into the game I cared little for St Kilda. If you’d asked me to identify any of their players in a line-up I’d struggle. Their narrative this season had been interesting, but I worried that the Saints were already showing signs of being on the wane and couldn’t sustain their impressive start to the season. The Giants were a more intriguing proposition. With Kelly, Ward and Whitfield out injured and Shiel having moved down to Melbourne they lacked firepower through their midfield. This showed once the game was underway, as the swash-buckling running through the middle that made them fun to watch at Manuka was all but gone. Yet there was always Jeremy Cameron. Before the game I flippantly said I wanted him to kick a bag, just because it’s always enjoyable watching a player dominate their forward fifty. If anyone was going to do it today it was going to be him.

After early goals to Cameron, Membery and the Coniglio the game flirted with developing into a shootout, but afterwards it settled into a somewhat scrappy affair with St Kilda unable to capitalise on their territorial dominance. The Giants absorbed the pressure on their defence and then strung some possessions together along the wing on the counter. Without many of their prime movers GWS couldn’t fling the ball cavalierly through the middle, but when they broke, they broke with purpose. The Giants kicked a further six goals before quarter time. It was evident – and indeed became the defining feature of the match – that they were using their inside fifty entries far more effectively than St Kilda.

Despite the looming blowout, camaraderie among our group was high, with discussion and debate about both a questionable tasting Carlton Draught and the promise of what Mr Whippy could deliver at halftime. A Four’n’Twenty pie would have been a worthy adjunct to the game (as well as satiating my growing hunger), but inexplicably the friend we sent out into the wilderness to find food came back sans pie.

With the score at 50 to 13 at quarter-time, a glance at the Melbourne v Hawthorn game at the G confirmed that we didn’t have the close one. I’d seen this before from the Giants, kicking out to a lead in the first quarter and then taking it easy for the rest of the game. This time, however, it wasn’t a matter of Leon Cameron’s boys coasting over the line but stubbornly defending what had been won. To their credit, the Phil Davis-less defence held up very well. However, by the second quarter it was clear that the Giants were missing Whitfield, they were unable to construct artfully from the half-back line and instead found themselves pushed out wide. The game tightened, the Giants goals dried up and St Kilda tried to pull back the deficit.

The Saints continued to threaten at the start of the third quarter, with much of the game played in their half. GWS, by contrast, were unable to surge outside their defensive fifty. Much like the first quarter, St Kilda had plenty of the ball but were unable to do anything with it. Unlike the first quarter, GWS couldn’t break with purpose as easily. Then a St Kilda comeback beckoned. They got a goal through Acres and then Parker lined up for a shot soon thereafter. Before anyone could exclaim ‘it’s on!’, his shot hit the post. And then there was Cameron. By that stage he had three goals and a good command of his forward line. Direct from the kick in after Parker’s miss, Cameron got his fourth, the Giants’ first for some time. That was the game – it broke St Kilda’s heretofore minimally capitalised-on momentum. The Giants got three more goals before Sinclair pulled one back for the Saints at the end of the quarter. With the score at 13.6 to 7.8, GWS was still giving St Kilda a lesson in effective inside 50 entries.

The benefit of sitting in the northern end was not having the sun in our eyes; the disadvantage was not sitting at the scoring end (by three-quarter time there had been five goals our end compared to fifteen down the other end) and, by the final quarter, the shadows lengthened behind the goals, bringing an uncomfortable chill. By now much of the fizz had left the game. The margin was about the same as it had been at the end of the first quarter and all of St Kilda’s toil had moved them nowhere. I was finding myself continually checking the scores in Melbourne, frustrated that having initially tipped the Demons I broke my own rule by switching to Hawthorn. Following events in Jolimont added some tension to what was becoming a foregone conclusion in Manuka.

This was not a game for the neutrals, certain not for those sitting at the non-scoring end. St Kilda were too wasteful with their chances, not converting time in forward half to shots on goal. They were a blunt instrument, without the precision to make territorial domination meaningful. Throughout the game this rarely looked like it would change. GWS, by contrast, were lethal going forward – a big part of which was due to the strong marking and clinical finishing of Jeremy Cameron. By the end the Giants had been inside their forward fifty 42 times (compared to St Kilda’s 62) but had 24 scoring shots to 20. Their 18 goals, 6 behinds showed how ruthless they were when given the chance. A 44 point win seemed about right, although I wished Cameron had worked a little harder to get into double figures.

With the Giants having returned to their winning ways in Canberra, our party headed out of the ground. Walking to the car, we could hear the distant sound of the second siren, ushering spectators onto the pristine turf for a spot of kick-to-kick in the gloaming. I rued not bringing a ball to kick around, but you can’t have everything life. It was a good day out at the footy, it just wasn’t the close one.

 

Greater Western Sydney       8.2       9.4       13.6     18. 6    (114)
St Kilda                                   2.1       5.4       7.8       10.10   (70)

GOALS
Greater Western Sydney: 
Cameron 6, Greene 2, Himmelberg 2, Finlayson 2, Coniglio, Tomlinson, Reid, Taranto, Lloyd, de Boer
St Kilda: Kent 2, Marshall 2, Parker 2, Membrey, Marsh, Acres, Sinclair

BEST 
Greater Western Sydney: 
Cameron, Williams, Taranto, Haynes, Taylor, Reid
St Kilda: Steele, Ross, Marshall, Newnes, Kent

UMPIRES: Brown, Mollison, Meredith           CROWD: 12,633

OUR VOTES: Cameron (GWS) 3, Williams (GWS) 2, Haynes (GWS) 1

About William Westerman

Canberra-based historian. Author of 'Merger: The Fitzroy Lions and the Tragedy of 1996' Available here: https://melbournebooks.com.au/products/merger

Comments

  1. G’day William,

    I watched replay until the first half of first quarter and Saints wasted opportunities as did last year. Wondering where good attacking footy and ball use are gone. Why no defender could stop Cameron?

    When St Kilda had an opportunity, the Saints couldn’t finish our jobs and all created nearly empty at our back pocket. Quick actions brought the Giants goals.

    It was a disappointing game for me as a St Kilda supporter.

    You create a good report by the way.

    Cheers

    Yoshi

  2. William Westerman says

    Thanks Yoshi (although I wish I’d fixed the page layout before posting).

    Cameron’s in great form, and there aren’t many defenders who can stop him at the moment, but you’re right, the Saints did waste a few opportunities. Apart from the GWS blitz in the first quarter the Saints were right in the game.

    Good to see the Saints doing well though, despite the dire predictions at the start of the season.

    Cheers,
    Will

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