That Blasted Holy Grail still in sight

When Mark Seymour scripted Holy Grail back in 1992 – just as the Cats lost the second of their four grand finals in that era (ooh, early knife there), I doubt whether he and his merry minstrels envisaged their royalty cheques skewing significantly every September over a decade later.

Thanks to Channel Ten’s incessant dead-horse flogging of said anthem, the Hunters were finally wheeled out on that day last year to crank it live on the big stage itself.  Unfortunately for us Sainters, it saw the Cats winning their second Grand Final of a new era (early knife begrudgingly, respectfully, withdrawn).

And that blasted Holy Grail just eluded a success-starved supporter group that hadn’t tasted any such “grail” for 43 years.

Another Seymour ditty was more appropriate for tonight’s face-off, rather prophetically asserting “you will return to the scene of the crime”.

And so it was for the Saints, returning to the ‘G’, and the Cats, for the first time since that day.  The “river runs dry” in this particular rhapsody also – but no R.Clarke tonight to zing-zing my tidy play-on-words. While I had finally dyked my overflowing torrent of tears from that day, there was no other conceivable chance of rivers running dry on this Friday.

It pissed down all day, to be articulately precise.

In fact, the conditions were eerily similar to that day.

Such weather made it difficult to extricate one’s self from the pre-match joie de vivre. The scene of this crime was the All Nations Hotel Richmond, one of the last bastions of old school pubs, in an old school suburb.  It served host to my first Almanac lunch, a stunningly appropriate lead-in to the big game.

Faces put to names, names put to faces.  Lemonade’s, raspberry’s and sody-pop quenched gullets, and shit-talk was comprehensively spun.  Glorious “‘I’m not at work on a Friday” shit-talk.

Lyrical waxing included the Socceroos’ exit, the “Germany debacle”; the Gillard coup, Ruddster the duddster; the Wimbledon match of Old Testament/Moses beard length.

I did my best to convince a “prominent Geelong almanacker” the 70-68 Isner-Mahut scoreline at the All-England Club was more implausible than the week’s political events.

“Mahut. Mahut. Mahut is on fire” – well, almost, he didn’t quite get there did he.

All the while a fire of a more homely variety crackled away at the All Nations. Mick Molloy held court, sort of, as the resident local bar-fly across the way, and the home-made jumbo sausage rolls appeared in their stomach-lining warming goodness. It doesn’t get much better than this on a cold Melbourne night.

Amongst new friends and footballing foes, actually attending the game now looked decidedly shaky.

The TV perched more than handy above. Better Homes and Gardens had been bumped after all.  But a bizarre 7:50pm “special time” bounce would no doubt be accessorised with extra ads (to combat “Saints footy” commercial difficulties), plus artistically flavoured “St Kilda redemption” montages.  Images of bruised and battered Saints crying after the GF loss – this I could probably do without.

The final sweetener was the pub’s free shuttle bus to the ground – an unbelievable “community service” in an age of general “look after yourself-ness”. This was enough to sway the “effort” of attendance.

As a Saints reserved seats member I had booked tickets several weeks ago – the Monday after the Essendon loss.  The thought of playing Geelong at that stage filled me with typical dread, it had “ultimate reality check, sucker” written all over it.  Actually, it still did.  But with the late withdrawal of Kelly and Chapman – I entered a more hopeful, happy chappy.

The persistent “we need this” rain had dampened spirits, plenty stayed away. “Live against the gate” wouldn’t have many popping along at the last minute.

The Saints fans “on track” weren’t overly confident, and even if their boys pulled off something special, it was a case of: “yeah, but, but …the Grand Final”. Sympathy cards to be flashed as readily as red one’s for Australia in South Africa.   I assumed the Cats fans would just have that annoying nonchalant “treading water ’til September” indifference to it all.

All this amounted to a lack of atmosphere early –  Christiano Ronaldo’s “hot places, cold places” Castrol performance had more life about it.

Once underway, Ablett soon stoked the embers and grabbed a quick one in the first minute. As a Sainter you can only think “Jesus, here we go”.

Predictably, it’s tight and tough as the rain continues teeming.  An even contest, perhaps the Saints are just on top in general play, but converting proves difficult.  It was a night for the fleet of foot.  Big forwards in trouble.

Schneider in his long sleeves proves his Apache Cat mudlark credentials.  Nipping about with pace and guile in the wet, he’d have three majors by early in the second, a similar standing to the “baldy-faced” gelding, three from three on a heavy track.

At this point, an afternoon of lemonade consumption had called for, once again, “canny bladder strategising”.  Subsequent investment in a “diet lemonade” results in returning to the vantage point with the Saints in a whole lot of trouble.

The Cats had gone Bang. Bang. Bang. Ooh, quick reply Dal.  But then, Bang.

The last one, unfortunately I witnessed.  Ablett was doing “Ablett stuff”.

“Jesus, here we go”.

Can’t he just go away?  Well, maybe, but not until October.

The Cats keep peppering, but missing. They’d drawn the upper hand by the half, but the Saints were still in it. Despite some periods of dominance, there was something a bit “off” about Geelong, they didn’t quite seem “up for it”.

Perhaps the Cats required a football dose of “nasal delivery technology”.

It’s a pedestrian start after the break, but with shades of that Grand Final penalty, Milburn gifts a fifty to Jack Steven who opens it up. St Kilda going ok on the “50s for” tonight.

The Saints turn up the screws when the “frontal pressure” (apologies for use of new-age football cliché) clicks up another gear.  It’s the Jackie-dog again who benefits from the ferocious tackling work. A flying snap from the forty just clears the Scarlett reach.  He may have got that toe-poke, but he didn’t manage a scrape on that one. Although he pleads to the contrary.  Ok, Scarlo, sure thing.

The Saints are upping the ante further.  Providing the most resistance is Selwood, a super classy draft product of Geelong’s “gap year” in 2006.  Not a bad result from their turmoil of that season.

Lenny Hayes sits in the opposing hot-seat as our “classy hard-nut in-and-under”. He is also his usual beloved, “trust in me”, warrior self.  I shudder the thought of him retiring, ever.

Kosi misses a set-shot from 35m to put the Saints in front.  The replay would give us the Eric Bana reaction, the new no.1 ticket holder at Moorabbin. A look of “Poida” chagrin as opposed to Incredible Hulk rage.

His frustration was short-lived.  Young Steven gets on the end of some more Saints pressure, and slots his third in double-quick time.

Fist-pumps, “YESSSSSSSS”,  and carefully stage-managed jumping is all the rage in M12 row HH.

St Kilda in front.

“Jack-in-the-box” Steven delivering the goods.  A recruit from, of all places, Geelong Falcons via Lorne.

A Bellarine boy serving it up to the Bellarine brethren.  I likes it.

Down back the Gwilt is having a “break out” game.  He crafts some stellar work in the wet, shutting down cult-hero J-Pod in his first “shocker” at this level.  He’s had a good run of it, he’ll come again.  But the Gwilt was “all over him”, his run from defence was immaculate.

“Take ‘em on Jimma!”

Should the Gwilt keep up line-breaking performances of this nature, with his ‘fro and that swagger, he too could be linked to a Pussycat doll soon enough, and of course, ultimately launch his own funky T-shirt label – which now seems de rigeur for the Confidential pages types – but I’d suggest Jimmy’s not enough of a wanker to tread the latter path.

Soon Schneider would salute with a fourth, and all the sniggering, muffled-breath “why couldn’t you have done it that day mate” negativity was fading into the abyss of yore.

While Carlton had their “Setanta’s little helpers” destroy St Kilda a month ago, tonight it was “Sainters little helpers” causing grief for Geelong.

The third of the trio finally registered.  Milne.  The subject of some on-cue weekly Saints muckraking via Channel Eddie/Hun, he’s finally on the sheet, curling through a typical snap.  I was thankful the Cats fans didn’t boo him on the night, Collingwood in three weeks will be a different story.

At five-zip in the third and out by 17pts, the Saints had found their “place”.  What a certain criminal mastermind, Dr.Evil, would poignantly refer to, in its many forms as:

“Mojo. The libido. The life force. The essence. The right stuff. What the French call a certain… I don’t know what”

The match-ups were right on, the Cats were going nowhere.  How good is this!

The final stanza was more of the same for the Cats – lack of a goal, and a holding pattern for the Saints – they couldn’t quite register another. Late in the piece it dawned (delayed lemonade effect) that Geelong hadn’t actually registered a major in the second half.

Woweeeeee!

Milne would cap it all off with a ridiculous free kick on the bell. Oh well, we may as well take that.

A massive effort from the Saints.  Redemption? perhaps not.  But a win against the Cats, at the MCG – seeds of belief were planted.  Geelong had a few out, St Kilda had a few out.  The next battle deserves a dry track, full list v full list.  Well, full list minus Chappy, you can miss again mate.

The post-game fall-out is a story in itself.

In certain Geelong “circles” it seemed a case of “how dare they”.  With the usual media fawning for anything Cat-like, but they’ve probably earnt it too, there was almost a notion the Saints should just “step aside” and let us all bask in the natural brilliance of the Cats.

If even half the Cats are blessed with “more talent in their little finger” than the full Saints list, then Bomber Thompson, the master of the sly, smug, “blink and you’ll miss it” dig, was comprehensively out-coached on this particular night.

I dare say Pim Verbeek would be saluting messrs Lyon and co for shutting down the might of footy’s Brazilian equivalent.

In the most simplistic of terms, the Saints proved, for tonight at least, the old adage “a champion team will always beat a team of champions”.  Made harder by the fact that the Cats are both.  And the Saints have a few stars in their own right.  But only about half a dozen who’d make the Geelong twenty-two according to some.  And before the howl-down begins, yes I do use the word “champion” hesitantly with reference to a sans-premiership St Kilda outfit – it’s just how the cliché rolls folks.

And of course, poor ole’ Stevie Baker.  No matter your thoughts of him, or “processes”,  “systems” and “technicalities”, a clear unjustice at nine weeks has been served. It just doesn’t feel right – and that’s being kind.  Owing to the lack of football over the weekend, the resultant tabloid toxins spewed forth from the usual suspects – Herald Sun, Channel Eddie and all the SEN nuff-nuffery, the court of public opinion has spoken once again.  I have enforced a self-imposed media ban, else an explosion of biblical proportions is imminent.  Or maybe that Incredible Hulk rage.

Count Vlad Demetriou, on a roll from the Israel/Karmichael coup, and with pending slow-news-day outcry, looks to stick in the “AFL is awesome and clean” wedge. A glancing nod in the corridors of AFL house, a la Mr.Miyagi to Daniel-son “Finish him” style is given. Baker, the easy “he’s just a dirty thieving little tagger” target gets the noose. And while you’re at it Bakes, cop J.Riewoldt’s weeks, cop Chris Judd’s weeks too.  There, that’s about nine.  After all, it’s only Steven Baker.

A pity the umpires couldn’t fulfill their duties on the night either.  Reporting on gameday is still allowed gentlemen. The incredibly incompetent FIFA World Cup referees would come into their own here.  As a more wise and reasoned almanacker than I noted: “umpire inactivity implies consent”.

But whatever the world in general keeps throwing at St Kilda in 2010, to date they just keep standing up.  Maybe this will embolden them even further.

While Bakes may be sitting it out, soon enough another team change will read

In: N.Riewoldt.

With a dose of self-belief from Friday, plus the injection of the good skipper above, maybe I will get to enjoy that blasted Holy Grail one day after all.

Comments

  1. Andrew Fithall says

    Great work David. Now which of the “prominent Geelong almanacker”s would you be referring? The one good with numbers? Or the Accountant? (insert laugh-track here)

    Well done on getting to the game. I caught the train from West Richmond to Jolimont, but got cold (and wet) feet in transit and stayed on board to Flinders St and headed for the warmth of home. You missed some goals due to “canny bladder strategising”. I missed the same goals having a catnap (no pun intended) on the couch.

    Andrew

  2. David,

    I remember well those four grand final losses. They sure hurt.

    Just after the siren had blown when we had lost the second one to ‘Sand Steroids’ my phone rang. It was a bloke called Sheegs, a mad Sainter, who I had played in a premiership of very low calibre about a decade before.

    Sheegs wanted to discuss the Cat’s loss and really bagged me out. It hurt. But I listened and I noted that it wasn’t even his side that had beaten us he called me a sooky and went on and on. You know the stuff. Hand baggers, losers, soft, pussies. I refused to hang up and as it was a long distance call after about 15 minutes he considered the cost and bid me fare well.

    Seveal years later the Saints lost a GF to Adelaide. I thought of Sheegs but did not call him. First because I knew just how bad he would be feeling and secondly because it was none of my business as it wasn’t my team.

    I caught up with Sheegs at a rather sad funeral about seven years later. He had flown down from Queensland. We discussed his phone call. I explained why I hadn’t returned the favour and emphasised how low an act it was and how much it hurt when you had just lost a GF.

    Sheegs agreed, noting that was gut wrenching and he was totally out of order, sincerely apologised and we had a few ambers and discussed the flag we had won together. Oh Happy Day.

    Fast forward to last year and we know who played in the GF. I tracked Sheegs down and rang him on the Friday prior to the game and wished him well.

    I said no matter what the result I would not contact him after the game.

    If the Saints won I would be pissed off and would not want to talk to him but I would be thinking of him and the rapturous state he would be in.

    If the Cats won he certainly would not want to hear from me. So I would not call. But I certainly would be thinking of him.

    We Cats supporters have ‘done it hard’ for decades but took the crap and kept the faith. We may well be a little jovial at the moment but we know that Autumn follows Summer and Winter follows Autumn.

    We also would wish the joy that we have felt, as long sufferers, to St Kilda supporters; it is a wonderful thing.

    We are just a little too wrapped up in it all at the moment as even though we have been written off for the forth year in a row, we still believe.

    We are really good people and unlike the inner Melbourne self proclaimed football elitist arrogant supporters we know our place. We are your kin.

    I wish all St Kilda supporters the very best for the season and hope you get to enjoy what we recently have. But please not at our expense.

    Cheers, Phantom.

  3. The homely, yet gentrified, surrounds of the All Nations, the well-informed chitter-chatter about other sporting codes, the Shuttle Bus (of all things), the coin shelled out for M12 HH and the A-List No.1 ticket holder. Not exactly what your regulation StKilda supporter of the early 80s (you know, of the Moorabbin-Cage variety) would have pencilled in as a good Saturday afternoon at the footy.

    Still, things have obviously changed.

    However, the greatest departure from the StKilda stereotype appears to be this new-found respect for the opposition. Quite strange indeed.

  4. very well put phantom, agree with that.

    Strangely enough us Collingwood people are in the same category and I know how both of you feel.

    our wait will not end this year unfortunately, maybe next year or shortly after I hope.

  5. Gary Newton says

    David

    You weren’t John Howard’s speech writer were you? A tad long perhaps but semi enjoyable reading even for a strong Cats fan such as myself.

    The point I would make is that you under play the importance of OUR outs when you write: “Geelong had a few out, St Kilda had a few out.” Sorry your few don’t = our few! And you forgot to mention all those 50 metre penalties you received. (Yes I know we got one).

    As Phantom correctly stated: “We Cats supporters have ‘done it hard’ for decades but took the crap and kept the faith. We are really good people. We are your kin….and hope you get to enjoy what we recently have. But please not at our expense.”

    And please stop trying to belt us off the park! Guerra used to do it and now Baker! WTF!

  6. Andrew (#1)- I’m onto you!

    I’ve been very reasoned and kind to that scum bag Baker!

    Amuses me somewhat how Saints supporters have conveniently forgotten their own uproar when Saint Nick got hit by the big bad rough Lions, after he popped his shoulder a few years back.

    Bomber Thompson got it right when he said “I’m not bagging Steven Baker, but we just don’t need that crap in the game.” And Ross Lyon agrees.

  7. Gary Newton says

    Dips

    “And Ross Lyon agrees” So why didn’t he put a stop to it?

    Me thinks it’s more a case of Ross Lyon ‘appears’ to agree!!

  8. David, excellent article! In all honesty, though this goes against the grain, it’s probably the most enjoyable I’ve read all week.

    It’s good for the rivalry your lot smashed us, but as for the “team of champions” – it might do well to remind that Geelong was without 6 of their champions, including the three most important to the team structure in Ottens, Kelly and Chapman. Granted, St Kilda was without spearhead Riewoldt, but Riewoldt is, at best, worth only 2 of those champions.

    I really, REALLY hope that both teams can play full-strength in perfect conditions in September. It’d be the contest of the century thus far.

  9. David Downer says

    #2 – Well said Phantom. I know in many respects that we are cut from the same cloth. And yes I am aware of the inner-city Cat being of a “different breed”.

    If StK had a run like Geelong I’d probably be sitting there with some non-intentional shades of smugness too, wanting it all to last forever. And I certainly don’t think anyone is writing the Cats off – who is saying that? Still flag fave’s by a street in my book, but the Saints edged a bit closer on that score on Fri night.

    #5 – Thanks Gary. We could debate the relative merits of StK missing Riewoldt and Gram vs your bunch, and I know there are plenty of them – but as you said, the piece was a “tad long” already (yes, yes, that’ll do) – plenty of other Geelong mirth around here to get that comforting fix of “wait til we get such and such back”.

    I was concentrating on the game that was actually played on Friday night, in which St Kilda won.

    #6 – Crikey Dips, let it go! As mentioned in another thread, Riewoldt was in the hands of the trainers and on his way off – and in terms of force, the Lion blokes came in with some reasonably decent hits. Johnson was absolutely in the heat of battle as a full blown participant. How you can’t see that difference is beyond me. And I’d hardly call Baker’s gentle b1tch-slap to that hand as particularly damaging. Debate the spirit of it all you want, but Johnson would do greater damage in the act of handballing.

    And Ablett Snr had a good record of belting Saints off the park too – and into next week. Burke, Grant in the final ’91, later the Bardsley hit was one of the worst you’ll ever see. Buddha Hocking blatantly running through Harvey at KP. Trent West took out Xavier Clarke a paddock away from the ball.

    Don’t throw stones in glass houses you blokes!

    Baker got his 9 weeks – but by the sounds of it around here it wasnt enough!

  10. Isn’t Australia a wonderfull place;

    isn’t democratic debate a beautiful thing; and,

    isn’t footy just the best game of all.

  11. David – I guess I just don’t think it matters where the player is, in the hands of the trainer or not. I was not comfortable (for the good of the game) with what I saw.

    Phanto – you’re right. Footy looks much better in the light of other sporting issues – pity it seems cricket is going the way of that wretched game soccer, with its corruption and political game playing.

  12. Peter Flynn says

    DD,

    Great read and enjoyed the drink.

    I saw the Bardsley (Anning)/Ablett clash from reasonably close quarters.

    Brutal.

    I think (?) Bardsley and Ablett each played 15 more games after that.

  13. David Downer says

    #8

    Thanks Susie, we’ve slugged it out a fair bit this week!

    Its hard to put actual numbers on the likely impacts of those missing (and er, Corey and Rooke you can add to your list of course). But so much of it then comes down to all those other factors within a game on the day itself – weather, matchups, gameplan, attitude, form, fitness, structures, “vibe” etc – adds another dimension to Phantom’s comments re “footy being the greatest game of all”.

  14. David Downer says

    Cheers Flynny.

    We did give it a reasonable nudge.

    I hope you fared well with the “canny bladder strategising” of your own on that late late Kyneton Express home!

    DD

  15. Peter Flynn says

    DD,

    Uncanny in the 1st half. Canny in the 2nd half.

    I went with Billy Pinnell’s Blast from the Past on the last train to Clarkesville.

    I wasn’t up to Finey and crew.

    PF

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