Winning is the new Losing!

Perhaps I had a premonition? It is the pessimist’s rule of thumb- When things can’t get any worse, there’s always a chance they will.

As a younger man, my folks left me to look after the house. Being young and foolish, it obviously seemed acceptable to invite some mates over. Sadly, even without the aid of alcohol, I managed to put a pot fresh from the cooktop straight on the kitchen bench-top, burning a huge ring on my mother’s celery-top pine pride and joy. With a couple of days to think upon my crime, I decided that heading her off at the pass and owning up as she alighted from the car would be my only salvation. Upon hearing my confession she uttered perhaps the most overwrought sentence I have heard-
‘You’ve ruined me. I’ve had an impending sense of doom all the way home!’

The melodrama of the reaction far outweighed the action, it is ever so in the pessimists mind and as you can see, I come from a profundity line of pessimists. Even the mundane can be extrapolated to a hither-to unimagined negative ending. When Kernahan marked in the pocket as the bell rang in ’93, I was sitting beside a Carlton friend who was jumping up and down with excitement-
‘We’ve won, we’ve won,’ she proclaimed.
It was easy to understand her rookie, optimistic refrain. Afterall, Sticks simply needed to score. Logic dictated that the Old Dark Navy’s were home…..But I couldn’t let it rest. I simply turned to her, as Kernahan sized up the chance and muttered-
‘You know. He could still kick this out on the full.’
The look on her face said it all. She had not even contemplated the possibility of a ‘third way.’ We are still friends but she has never forgiven me that moment of clarity. Sticks’ kick that day is one of the finest examples of the shank you are ever likely to witness. It also fuels the fire of the negativity I may have been genetically predisposed to adopting.

Really though, I present this preamble as way of explaining my morose writing of previous weeks. The Saints season was heading south in a hurry but my sadness at the demise seemed, even to my good self, rather overly dramatic. To quote from Hamlet is to overstate your position. Hamlet was the ultimate drama merchant, the Mike Sheehan of the Bard’s world, forever finding the drama, the doom and gloom, the condemnation from every loss.

Sure, in my defence, something was indeed rotten in the state of Seaford. The less I venture in way of opinion’s of Milne, the better. Too many people are paid much more then I to comment on this sordid affair. My voice is not required.

All that needs to be said is that it was typical of this season and indeed my footy side in general, that a huge milestone game for two of the club’s recent greats was played under the shadows of crisis and controversy. Indeed, the St.Kilda Football Club has forever run on those two ‘C’s’

Still, I wanted to enjoy the game. I made a pact to ignore the week’s catastrophes and focus on the bubble that was the onfield action. It is the ultimate act of denial and it is hard to pull off, most especially so because Melbourne are miserable and getting worse. There was to be no sacked-coach-bounce for the Dees. This season has run aground. The only bleak positive for the Dees is that the sinking ship is now incapable of moving.

The shadow hanging over this contest was a total eclipse. Neil Craig, warming the seat hastily left by a shellshocked Mark Neeld had no chance to salvage a competitive performance, while Dal Santo and Riewoldt played milestone games without their career-long teammate present to share the moment. Milne was a ghostly presence all night. When Watters was asked post-match if he was on hand, he gave a conspiratorial aside to the room suggesting that he had been at the venue. We were not to know where…

So the Saints finally won their third game of the season and there was simply no satisfactory way to enjoy it. Morrissey could write a great song about that contradiction….

Thankfully the Tigers rolled out their new and improved playing style straight after the MCG downer. The Dogs are not all that much better than us but controversy does not stalk them so completely. Their black dog is not as ferocious but it does scurry along behind them, allowing effort and determination to count for little in the wins column.

Meanwhile, Richmond are finally doing what they’re supposed to with opposition that are struggling. This was the type of game the Tigers of old would trip upon. Previous incarnations of the finals bound Tigers would make hard work of these Doggies, so much so that they might indeed lose to them. But there is an impressive edge to this last month from them. The opposition has been underwhelming but the results have been emphatic. The Dreamtime clash has, in a typically perverse footballing irony, brought out the best in the yellow sash. West Coast and Adelaide were playing for finals survival and Richmond had their way with them. The reward is a double-header of the cellar dwellers. Having taken care if the Dogs, they get the Saints this weekend.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, the following fortnight of football might confirm the Tigers finals spot. Wins against North and the Suns gives them the amount of wins that qualifies for the eight. That is all before them though, the classic one-week-at-a-time mantra must be observed. What impresses with the Tigers right now though, is the sense that they are finding more tricks. They are beginning to realise what is needed to win. It sounds simplistic but it is the most valuable lesson young teams must learn. Winning isn’t just one solid state. There is a fluidity to the processes. The snowflake effect- No two wins are ever the same. Good sides know that winning requires an understanding of the variables. If you understand how you win, from a wide enough collection of these variables, you can know what needs to happen for you to get the victory. It becomes less a surprise result and more a conviction.

The Brisbane Lions victory over Geelong is a prime example. This round ended with an upset, the Lions storming over the top of the Cats in the final quarter. The win (after the siren for extra effect) elicited euphoric celebrations from the pride and fair enough. But run the tape back and pay attention to the Geelong players post-match. There is little sense of devastation in their demeanour. They know why they got beat and they are filthy that they let themselves down. The loss conforms to the variables they understand. Geelong expect to win but more importantly, they know why they lose.

That lesson can only be learnt from experience. The Tigers have had enough of that losing experience to finally reach the point of variable cognisance. The next test is awaiting them. Soon Richmond will begin to play seasoned finalists and the lessons they gain here and now will be scrutinised. What is encouraging though, is the sense of confidence in performance they now show. Will it stand up to the clinical games of Sydney or Geelong?

Well, let the snowflakes keep falling and we’ll see.

Leave a Comment