St Kilda’s Night of the Living Dead

Considering the top shelf drama that games between these two clubs have provided in recent years, this was a night more notable for what was missing than what actually transpired.

No Ablett. No Selwood. No Hayes. After a few minutes, no Bartel.

But most significantly, no St Kilda.

At least not the passionate, often fanatical St Kilda that we’ve known in recent years.

Excepting Hayes, the familiar Saints names were listed and playing. The bodies were there but spirit and soul seemed absent amongst many. It was like George A. Romero had got to them. No body parts were dropping off, just aspirations.

After a competitive first quarter in which the Cats took a while to warm up – Dan Menzel excepted – this game fell away as a contest at an alarming rate.

The Saints didn’t start too badly. In fact, they led at ¼ time by a couple of points, but warning signs abounded. Montagna was obviously unfit, Goddard seemed absorbed in the funk that’s enveloped him all season, and Riewoldt hadn’t touched it. Sam Gilbert gifted Menzel his 2nd goal with a horrible defensive clanger just to consolidate his complete lack of confidence.

Their lead was due to Armitage and Ray sneaking forward unattended to kick a couple each. Even these moves looked more happenstance than the result of any co-ordinated method. When Saints runner Gerard Jess managed to deprive Adam Schneider a shot on goal by encroaching on forbidden territory it compounded the impression; things were just happening. They soon stopped happening for St Kilda.

The Cats started slowly and had to reorganise once J-Pod cleaned up Jimmy Bartel. Whilst they did so Menzel kept them in it, demonstrating that Geelong have found yet another talented goal kicking runner to add to the existing fleet. Matthew Stokes soon chimed in, and the old warhorses Ling and Chappy upped their efforts to compensate for the missing.

St Kilda’s favourite ploy of leaving Sam Fisher loose man in defence allowed him to rack up the stats, but it left the problem of what to do up forward against a numerically (and spiritually) superior Geelong defence. Nick Riewoldt remained surrounded, outnumbered,  largely stat-less,  and increasingly disenchanted with proceedings. Scarlett, Mackie, Enright and Taylor took turns waxing the rebounds.

The Cats’ four goal half time lead felt like a lot more.

St Kilda tried to run and handball more early in the 3rd term and they reduced the margin to 12 points, but Geelong answered in a manner that suggested they had more if they needed it. They didn’t. The margin never blew out, but the Saints never convinced that they could string goals together dangerously. Instead, they often seemed intent on setting new benchmarks for kicking the ball out on the full.

To be fair, some Saints didn’t give up the fight. Dal Santo has been one of their few leading lights not to drop form or head. Clint Jones slogged away tirelessly in the middle. Armitage, Peake, McEvoy and Steven all showed something.

But 28 point victories rarely feel more comfortable than this one. It is not a good sign when you are only four goals down in perfect conditions but don’t feel like any chance at all.

With a victory leaving them on the cusp of the top eight, Ross Lyon had gone back to Saints Plan A,  adopting a man-against-man selection policy. The kids were dropped and the old game plan largely reinstated. Faced with a moment of truth, they were trusting the familiar.

The problem is that the old ways don’t seem to cut it anymore.

A common factor in the decline of both St Kilda and the Bulldogs is the strong feeling they’ve been stuck playing last year’s game when times have moved on. The AFL  tactical landscape changes quickly now. Both Lyon and Rocket Eade have been innovators in their time, but it is another thing to remain one. Sometimes success can set a trap, making you reluctant to change.

It must be galling for Lyon in particular to consider that others are now beating the Saints with tactics and structures they themselves instigated: the difference being that other clubs have the personnel and inclination to build on what the Saints started – but couldn’t finish – in 2009.

Successive grand final defeats will always present major challenges for the following campaign. The Collingwood team of 2004 is just the most recent testimony to that fact. St Kilda have had the added handicap of the many off-field distractions that have fallen their way. None of it helps sustain belief that the effort will be worth it: that hope isn’t delusion.

But when a dominant team falls, it is worth examining the message still being preached. Does it still deserve the faith of the playing group? If nothing new is added, how can you achieve more?

Since late 2009, St Kilda’s attacking options in big games have increasingly boiled down to Riewoldt and Milne, with a supporting role to Schneider. They’ve become the soccer team with one lone striker up front, seeking to grind out matches and strike on the counter attack.

A few Almanac lunches ago Ted Hopkins was asked about St Kilda. He said that for much of 2009 they set unprecedented records for restricting opposition scoring, but that their own scoring was bowing to an inevitable return to mean.

That mean hasn’t been enough when it really mattered. Very close, but not enough.

So why are they still trying the same thing?

The collective loss of form amongst so many of St Kilda’s best players is the obvious cause of the team’s decline. Is it possible there’s more to this group disenchantment than broken hearts and rogue teenage girls?

Ross Lyon had left the coaches box before the end of the game. He, like everyone else, knew it was over well before the siren. He worked on his whiteboard alone, awaiting the team. He obviously had something to impart, which he did and promptly departed, leaving the players to their thoughts.

One wonders what those thoughts were?

The Saints talked a lot about their ‘bubble’. They even made a film about it. The trouble with bubbles is that they always burst. It’s how that inevitability is handled that is the true measure of whether the ‘culture’ of an organisation is sound.

St Kilda has a bye to regroup, then two seemingly winnable games. For those still dreaming, Kosi clunked a few marks. But waiting for a Kosi resurrection is almost as forlorn a task as looking for signs of social conscience from the tobacco industry.

The top eight is still a possibility, but who now really thinks they can do much damage?

The one redeeming element of their night was that the younger brigade who survived the cull showed the most. Is that a lesson the coach is ready to take on board?

It will be fascinating to see what the Saints do from here.

And Geelong? They’d already lost Ablett. The coach left. Then Selwood gets a holiday. Tonight, Bartel was as good as missing. They should have been up for grabs. But Menzel and Vardy step up. So do the old faithfuls. Yet again, they don’t lose.

There are visible signs of the long road travelled amongst the group – and they’ve had some luck – but at 12-0 you have to say they remain, for the moment, too bloody good.


About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Andrew Fithall says

    Good report on a dud match JB. The “runner” incident was amusing for a non-St Kilda supporter. Schneider had taken the mark about 35 or 40 metres out. My attention wandered, as happened several times during this game, as Schneider went back from his mark. And back. And back. No wonder the runner ran across. Schnieder was by this time about 70 metres from goal and I think about three minutes had elapsed since he had taken the mark. The controlling umpire was content to just give the runner a warning, but Razor Ray (you know he is a dud umpire when he has his own nickname) would have none of that and came in and reversed the kick.

  2. John Butler says

    AF, I used to work with the Saints runner. A lovely bloke who can take things a bit too seriously . There’s a lot of that around the Saints nowadays.

    He’ll be shattered about that incident.

    I think you’re wrong about the Razor (for once). He was happy to wave it on. The ump in the middle of the ground was the one who was a stickler.

    Another incident with no practical influence on the game until the law enforcement moved in. A lot of that around nowadays as well.

  3. Hi John, you, in more rational, beautifully written way, and from a more distant observer, were able to put into fuller words and writing what the game was all about. Well done. I am trying to find a world to live in where we are down at 12 and dropping. I have no great expectations now against North Melbourne and West Coast. It’s a long year from down here!


  4. Andrew Fithall says

    Thanks for the correction JB. I did preface that comment by saying that my attention had wandered. My error is not as blatant as the ones which have been highlighted in D Hinch’s Age article yesterday, which I refused to read. Players who weren’t actually in a game but he saw them have a fight and a preliminary final played at Waverley which Hinch attended at the MCG.

  5. John Butler says

    Thanks Yvette

    The Saints haven’t always been pretty in recent years, but they’ve been very brave.

    Do they now have the courage to change?

    Hang in there.

  6. JB – strange game in a lot of ways. Could end up impacting the Cats alot – Stokes rubbed out, J Hunt rubbed out, Kelly injured, Bartel injured, Milburn injured, Already no Selwood.

    Surprised about the fuss around Lyon leaving the coaches’ box. I didn’t read much into it, except that he was annoyed – so what?.

  7. John Butler says


    A lot of tribunal fallout from an indifferent contest.

    Regarding the tackles: I think the players are being required to defy the laws of physics the way some of these tackles are now being assessed (should that read obsessed?). Try tackling a big, heavy moving target, not fall into their back, and control how you both fall to ground.

    I’d like to see someone on the match review panel try it.

    Re Lyon: agree about him leaving early. No biggy. I’m more interested in his general body language, that of the players, and the general impression the whole camp is projecting. Not happy.

  8. David Downer says

    JB …like a moth to the flame …here I go…
    The Saints “effort” on Saturday night was actually quite good (in our recently expectation-lowered universe) – but obviously poor skills proved the major difference in the finish. Geelong have got their shit together, play seamless team footy, have an unbelievable defence, and readily take their chances forward (including with the umps directly in front, fa godz sake, who are you umpire 18?!? – a few momentum-turners there). On the flip, St Kilda are, seemingly, honest toilers trying to shake-up their stodgy old game-plan, ringing changes weekly after having a settled line-up for years (despite reverting back to the old firm on Sat nite while a kid like Menzel goes berserk for the Cats), and the skipper that’s carried them for a decade is stuck in a big black hole – something they’re not used to dealing with.
    Just as 2007 was a StK transition year in adapting to the more defensive R.Lyon approach, 2011 is shaping up as a similar transition in game style – reverting to a more attacking, play-on basis (hallelujah). It’s unfamiliar territory, players are perhaps unsure of their roles, and I think some of the ridiculous skills errors are a by-product of this. It’s no surprise that someone like Brett Peake, while no world-beater, is now playing some of his best footy while they adopt a more run-and-gun mindset – where natural footy instincts are more encouraged and pace becomes an uninhibited asset. But the clanger-fest on Sat night became the headline and overshadowed what may be the more important long-term characteristic – the major turnaround to an attacking intent (glaring if we look back at say the Rd.1 match). The Freo game a couple of weeks ago was the best example of when it all clicked for them.
    Still, overcoming the mental hurdles of recent years (and Summer) probably presents the bigger challenge, and whether the Saints’ younger cattle (who’ll be thrown back in again now) will be good enough in time to mix it with the best remains to be seen.
    I’m sensing a number of older Saints will be running around in GWS jumpers in the next couple of years as the reality of this era’s premiership dream closes, and they rather rebuild elsewhere on double the $$ than help rebuild StK for when the new crop peaks (hopefully there is a peak). The selectors will have to make some tough calls in coming weeks too, and the list managers likewise in a couple of months.
    The crowd itself was a major worry – it seems as though not only have the bandwagon brigade dropped off, but plenty of other former diehards just can’t face it anymore! We sat in the StK reserved area and there were entire rows of seats empty. With the team’s performance dropping away, a dud fixture in the offing next year, and every game live on the box, crowd/membership numbers for the Saints could drop away to quite worrying levels. I feel like we’ve been here plenty of times before…

  9. John Butler says


    Interesting thoughts as always. There have been signs of tinkering recently, but when it came to the crunch it was back to the same old same old. Not a convincing way to embrace real change.

    20 years ago you would have bet on St Kilda dropping their bundle. I reckon this mob are made of sterner stuff. The supporters will need to be too.

  10. Andrew Fithall says

    Regarding the tackles: I think the players are being required to defy the laws of physics the way some of these tackles are now being assessed – JB

    My Form 5 physics tells me that gravity will cause an object to accelerate at 9.8 metres per second every second. Travelling from 2 metres above the ground, by gravity alone, the head would be travelling at less than 20 metres per second. As can be seen from players returning to earth after a speccie attempt, such speed is not an issue, particularly when the falling player is able to manage their landing with the use of arms.

    As seen in the examples on the weekend, the tackled player is be thrown directly into the ground at much greater speeds than provided by gravity alone. The tackler is using their own body weight and throwing momentum to more forcefully slam the person, using the ground as a weapon to not only dislodge the ball if it is still retained, but to also, in my view, to deliberately harm the player. That arms are also pinned means the tackled player cannot manage their “landing” at all.

    Joel Corey’s tackle was the worst of those I witnessed and the MRP have it totally wrong when they use actual damage inflicted as a determining factor when handing out out penalties. The potential for Corey’s victim to have suffered much greater injury was very high and both the tackler and the tackled are very fortunate that wasn’t the outcome.

  11. John Butler says


    Agree that Corey’s was worst of those on the weekend (maybe Mumford’s excepted) but think the AFL continues to chase its tail on this matter generally.

    They made a point of penalising in-the-back in a tackle some time ago (something they are admittedly inconsistent with) and everyone taught their players to roll as they tackled.

    Now we are engaged in hair splitting over whether a tackle roll is one motion or two, whether that force was more than this, blah blah.

    It seems to boil down to whether a player ends up hurt or not. A completely unscientific, inequitable, and random basis for findings that are allegedly supposed to have some basis in natural justice.

  12. JB,

    watch the antics in the old classic “The Plank” (rhymes with tank for the benefit of all the Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond and Melbourne supporters) and that is the match review committee at the moment.

    They have not got a clue.

  13. David Downer says

    JB, every St Kilda supporter I know was miffed at the selected side on Saturday night, where not one of the new brigade was played. It was disappointing showing up to watch the same ole’ same ole’ after the younger inclusions had given everyone a lift and a bit of spark. Maybe they were being “rested” or were “sore”, but so was Montagna who was clearly injured and couldn’t run the game out.
    AF, agree on the Joel Corey tackle. How this one slides through while Kosi and Mumford get pinged would confuse even the most ardent Cats supporter (on this site anyway …er,probably). And it will confuse the players even further as to where it’s all at. Does the MRP have it’s own review panel reviewing them? The MRPRP?

  14. I am not sure what planet you guys are on with the Joel Corey tackle. It is quite obvious what happened and it shows just how corrupt the MRP system is.

    Corey was let off due to the embarassment they had over the severity of the Selwood out. It was two weeks, at most, for recklessness. They know.

    Hence the no weeks for two weeks that Corey should have received. Think about. We are dealing with a very insideous dictator here. Look at that dude that is doing all the spin for Gadaffi. The MRP are just puppets on a good thing like him.

    The process is a moving feast, inconcistent, selective and corrupt. It does nothing to clean up the game.

    Stokes goes for a push in a big bloke’s goolies (and so he should) while a bloke who gets waite line fever (no not a typo) gets off for deliberately cow kicking in the same spot.

    Refer to the Judd / Pav incident; it ain’t going away. The old ‘ he gets terribly tagged each week’ is rediculous -so does Selwood and he gets his head pummelled all day, but he doesn’t sook.

    Maybe the MRP should get a gig on Q & A. That would be a bit of fun. Of course ‘Andrew the Great’ would want to vet the questions.

  15. Phantom is fired up.

    What about the bump on Heath Hocking. Late, Player open after disposing of the ball and not expecting it, head high, perpertrator with feet off the ground and very destructive outcome. Four to five weeks. Dosen’t even get a mention at match review.

    Oh that’s right it was a North Melbourne player. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say n’more.

  16. John Butler says

    Geez Phantom, I’m scared to say anything after that!

  17. John Butler says


    I think those Saints supporters are right to be disappointed about Saturday’s backslide.

    Why pick a half fit Montagna who could barely run? What is that telling the kid he replaced?

    The positive is that the kids are showing something. If they’re given the chance. Over to you Ross on that one.

    I think we are in furious agreement on this DD.

  18. It’s ok JB, I just had one of my green pills. I’ll be fine in a few minutes

  19. Mark Doyle says

    Geelong won this game because of better players; Geelong have more A graders than St. Kilda. Geelong’s skill level was of a higher standard and the 6 goal second quarter was the difference. Geelong’s best players were the experienced Corey, Ling, Enright, Chapman, Scarlett and Mackie with solid performances from Stokes, Taylor, Podsiadly, Menzel and Vardy. St. Kilda’s effort was good, but their skill level was below par. I believe that St. Kilda are not well coached and have an ineffective strategy, which includes the roles of Riewoldt, Goddard and Fisher. St. Kilda have done well to get to the last two grand finals and were unlucky to not win the first 2010 grand final. In 2009, Geelong won because of the pace of Varcoe and Byrnes in last quarter. This year St. Kilda are missing their most valuable and arguably best player in Lenny Hayes; he is a bigger loss this year than Riewoldt was last year.
    There is no point in whinging about umpires. They do a reasonably good job!
    There is also no point in whinging about the Match Review Panel and the Tribunal. The present system works much better and is more transparent than the previous system. With this week’s decisions on similar incidents, both Koschitske and Mumford received harsher penalties than Corey because of their poor records.

  20. Andrew Fithall says

    Mark – while I agree the points system is better than what came before, it is still flawed:

    the incident was assessed as negligent conduct (one point), low impact (one point) and high contact (two points). This is a total of four activation points,
    the incident was assessed as negligent conduct (one point), high impact (three points) and high contact (two points). This is a total of six activation points,
    the incident was assessed as negligent conduct (one point), medium impact (two points) and high contact (two points). This is a total of five activation points,

    The difference in points allocated in these three incidents is due ONLY to the assessed level of impact. The Corey one was assessed as low impact because the player wasn’t injured (they also review medical reports in making this decision). That is why I think it is flawed. After this, previous points and record are then factors in determining the final penalty

  21. AF – I haven’t really got a problem with it. Why shouldn’t the player’s injury be considered? If there is no injury then there was arguably not enough rough play to cause offense. If a player is hurt then logically the opposite applies. Where’s the problem?

    I like this system a lot better than the old one which was like a game of pin the tail on the donkey.

  22. Andrew Fithall says

    I think the actions should also be assessed for their potential to have caused harm. To use you logic Dips, there should be no crime called attempted murder. And to stretch the logic even further, what should J Pod get for his damage caused to Bartel?

  23. JPod should have got a month.

    But fair dinkum, wh’re not talking about murder here, its a game of footy. No injury, no penalty. Simple. Most tribunal hearings become defunct and we lose all this anxiety every week about whether a bloke should get 3 months or nothing.

    Any player found to be faking injury gets reported and penalized too! On this basis Buddy’s week is about right. The bloke he hit only suffered minor hurt. If Buddy had concussed him he gets 3 or 4.

  24. Pamela Sherpa says

    Taking the severity of injuries caused by an infringement into account is opening a can of worms. it causes more confusion and inconsistency than clarity..

  25. Mark Doyle says

    Get over it fellas! The system is to use medical reports to determine the level of impact. It is not confusing or flawed! This discussion reminds me of the backlash in Rugby League a few years back over the outlawing of head high tackles, ‘coat hangers’, the spear tackle and the grapple tackle. Rugby League is now a much less violent and better game. The AFL will be a less violent and better without aggressive sling tackling into the ground. The best tacklers are those blokes with good upper body strength who can hold an opponent around the waist and not go to ground; two of the best in my memory were Francis Bourke of Richmond and Mark Bos of Geelong. Of the current day players, Jimmy Bartel and Chris Judd have good tackling skills.

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