The annus horribilus that is season 2018, sank to new lows for the Saints on Saturday night, when they suffered a 71-point defeat to Sydney at Etihad Stadium. The match was surrendered in an insipid opening quarter, the increased competitiveness of recent weeks was quickly forgotten, as the Swans scored at will in a nine goal to one procession.
We were smashed, just beaten comprehensively everywhere by an outstanding footy team. We weren’t in the fight … we weren’t in the game. They were a ruthless footy team and we were far from that. It was an unacceptable performance in terms of the physical commitment required to play AFL footy full-stop.
Alan Richardson – Post Game
While the feebleness of the effort was enough to bring an animated response from the normally placid Alan Richardson at the quarter time break, a second gamer provided a bright spot amongst the wreckage. Josh Battle, lived up to his name providing a number of strong contests up forward. Where many of his teammates appeared unable to match it with their opponents physically, Battle threw himself hard at the contest and the man in a standout performance that was rewarded with two goals.
The effort was noticeably improved in the second quarter and beyond as the Saints were able to work their way into the contest for the ball after being obliterated early. After losing the first seven clearances of the game and finishing the first quarter -12 in this battle, St Kilda were able to break even for the remainder of the match. Unsurprisingly, with the Swans no longer running rampant at the stoppages, the Saints defence was able to operate much better than they were allowed to in the face of the first quarter onslaught. This is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the Swans were able to score 9.3 from stoppages in the first half yet registered just 1.2 in the second.
Jimmy Webster was one Saint who thrived in defence despite the Swans barrage. The likely leader of the Best & Fairest, continued his outstanding season with another confident and assured performance. Imposing himself on the contest he won nine intercept possessions and was able to set up a number of forward thrusts with his trusty left foot. He was also given an opportunity late in the match to display his pace too when a long Gary Rohan bomb gave Webster a foot race with Luke Parker to prevent a Swans score. Not just content with beating his Sydney opponent to the Sherrin, Webster was also able to turn and find Captain Seb Ross with a precise 35 metre pass.
The combination of the ease at which the Swans scored in the first quarter and the Saints improved vigour afterwards made for a remarkable stats sheet at games end. Given that the Saints entered the game 16th for contested possessions and the Swans fifth, a one possession differential in a 71-point defeat is almost bewildering. Equally confusing, given the margin, was the fact that the Saints managed to go inside fifty six more times than the Swans. While these categories paint a picture of a three-quarter effort at the necessary level from the men in red, black and white, their skill level remains disappointingly low. Nowhere around the ground is this more evident than in their last possession going forward.
While the Sydney midfield was able to find a target inside the attacking arc nearly half the time, 23 times from their 49 entries, the Saints 55 forward thrusts resulted in just 10 marks inside forward fifty. The St Kilda forwards must be commended at their ability to not display the frustration they must feel, at the complete disregard shown them in their teammates relentless and monotonous butchery of the ball.
This was on full show at the midway point of the third quarter. Jack Steven received a handball from Jack Sinclair at half forward and bought himself space and time by stepping back inside a Swans defender before running to the fifty metre arc. Ahead of Steven was the bulky frame of Paddy McCartin who had won front position on his opponent Heath Grundy, and with space in front of him, led towards the midfielder. Rather than kick to the advantage of his forward, despite having time on his side to do so, Steven helicoptered a hurried kick over the head of McCartin into a nest of three Swans who gleefully rebounded the ball.
What must the young forward make of such passages of play? In the wake of this kind of delivery from experienced and decorated team mates, the former number one draft pick has struggled to make an impact at AFL level and now find himself the subject of jeering from large numbers of Saints supporters. Many of whom spent much of Saturday night telling the youngster from Geelong, in reference to his brother lining up for the Swans, that he wasn’t even the best McCartin on the field. Despite this, he continued to lead and compete all game, and if not for a wayward night in front of goal, should have had an impact on the scoreboard. While he may not have swayed any of those deriding him with his performance, Saints Summary remain bullish that his breakout game is tantalisingly close.
One player who rarely struggles with his disposal is Jack Sinclair. While not as prominent as he was against the Eagles a week earlier, the 23-year-old’s goal to open the scoring in the second quarter was one of the highlights of the night for St Kilda fans. While the finish alone might be worthy of highlight status given his ability, under heavy pressure to dribble it through from the boundary, it wasn’t his only involvement in the chain. Running with the flight of the ball inside defensive fifty, Sinclair intercepted a Ben Ronke pass before releasing Seb Ross and beginning the Saints drive forward. Remaining an inside option he stayed with the play before presenting himself front and square at Josh Battle’s feet before the forward won a free kick. Rather than being drawn to the scrum of players at the fall of Battle’s kick, he hovered unmarked, and dangerous, outside of it and pounced on Dean Rampe’s fist towards the boundary to score. Not just a testament to his skill but also to his daring and multiple efforts, it was a memorable moment on a forgettable night for the team.
Tom Hickey also battled manfully throughout the night, one of the teams leading clearance winners he laid more tackles than any other player on the ground. Logan Austin, Bailey Rice and Ed Phillips also continued to show positive signs in the early stages of their AFL careers. The teams performances though, which have produced the worst start to a season since 2000 and consigned Alan Richardson to the third worst VFL/AFL coaching record after 100 games, ensures that the club and it’s coach will be under intense media scrutiny. Will next week’s trip to the Gold Coast provide the much needed circuit breaker? Having lost three of their last four on the glitter strip, they are no sure things and will need their best performance to remove the coach’s head from the chopping block.
ST KILDA 1.1 3.8 4.10 7.13 (55)
SYDNEY 9.1 14.3 17.7 19.12 (126)
St Kilda: Battle 2, Sinclair, McCartin, Weller, Membrey, Gresham,
Sydney: Franklin 4, Sinclair 3, Papley 2, Hayward 2, Rohan 2, Parker 2, McCartin, Heeney, Jones, Kennedy,
St Kilda: Webster, Ross, Dunstan, Battle, McCartin
Sydney: Kennedy, Heeney, Franklin, Hewett, Florent, McVeigh, Sinclair, Grundy
St Kilda: Brown (concussion)
Umpires: Dalgleish, Nicholls, Gianfagna
Official Crowd: 27,569 at Etihad Stadium