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Extinguished like a lipstick-stained cigarette in a filthy nightclub ashtray, St Kilda’s 2018 AFL season has well and truly been put to rest.
St Kilda lined up against ladder-leaders Richmond on Friday night and produced a brand of football that can only be described as insipid, slipping behind 11 goals to two at half time and never looking close beyond the five minute mark of the first quarter.
The Saints sit in 15th spot on the ladder with four wins and 12 losses and, with Brisbane throwing up competitive footy week after week, it seems likely they may slip even further down the totem pole before the final bell rings.
With so much emotion hovering in the air as tin rattlers marched for Maddie’s Vision and the fight against bone marrow failure, the rotten taste of competitive indifference lingered around the stadium as the Tigers tore the Saints apart like cardboard cut-outs.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this team. They failed to compete physically, the execution was missing via foot and hand and, perhaps worse of all, there seemed to be a complete failure to strategically prepare for this match.
Richmond produced the same style of footy they have just about every week of the season to date, focusing hard on forward handball movement and then clamping down hard when on the back foot by limiting lateral movement and roasting the ball carrier.
Rebounding from a tough loss against Greater Western Sydney, what did the Tigers discover at Etihad Stadium? Wide open paddocks of space through the middle of the ground, endless opportunity in front of goal and some of the worst tackling pressure millions of dollars in player payments can buy.
The Saints actually managed to outscore Richmond by four points in the second half, but there was no genuine challenge or threat. A sort of plastic revolution.
Even Aussie cricket legend Shane Warne, a life long lover of the Saints, took to Twitter and begged the Saints to offer the one thing that comes free in sport – effort.
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) July 20, 2018
Earlier this season, I criticised St Kilda’s high possession-getters and questioned the actual damage inflicted by their disposals.
The same questions lingered this time around, with Seb Ross, Jack Steele, Jack Steven, Luke Dunstan and Jarryn Geary each touching the ball more than 20 times but still managing to have no tangible impact on the result.
Captain Geary offered up an apology while bidding farewell to the crowd during the presentation – it’s sad to see a team, once fancied as finalists, seeking penance in front of a thinning crowd.
Perhaps the thing that bothered me the most about this encounter was that we managed to learn nothing about the premiership favourites, Richmond.
Last round, the Tigers were taken all the way by the Giants. Playing away from home, the crowd witnessed every facet of Richmond’s game questioned under a raging fire.
Against St Kilda, Richmond were allowed to zip, dart and dash between players without challenge, hitting up more than ten individual goal kickers and winning the match without breaking more than a silver spoonful of sweat.
The only real question to emerge from this messy match is how much oxygen remains in the blood of senior coach Alan Richardson and his loyal cavalcade.
The club insists that the direction is easy to see, regardless of the regression this season, and that Richardson is the man with the plan.
On Friday night it looked like the Saints’ footballers have grown so despondent with the plan that they’ve decided to stop playing footy for large patches of time altogether.
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Good news seems rare at St Kilda these days, and every glittering ounce of it should be cherished, worshipped and preserved like a diamond.
One such diamond has come in the form of Rowan Marshall, a tall youngster from country Victoria with hope in his eyes and a willingness to compete over and over against the best defence in the league – despite having fewer than a dozen games’ experience.
Let’s hope the hellish ride through 2018 doesn’t have any negative impact on Marshall’s career in the long term.
A similar nod needs to be given to Jade Gresham, racking up 24 touches, six inside 50s, booting two goals and laying five tackles. Gresham, with more than 30 goals under his belt, will have to be one of the front runners for a spot in the All-Australian forward line.
St Kilda now face matches against Greater Western Sydney (Spotless Stadium), the Western Bulldogs (Etihad Stadium), Essendon (Etihad Stadium), Hawthorn (Etihad Stadium) and finally North Melbourne (Etihad Stadium).
Richmond, meanwhile, are destined for what may be the most exciting contest of the home-and-away campaign – a match up with fellow top four side Collingwood at the MCG next Saturday afternoon.