top of page

Rd 3 - Saints v Bombers

Flirting with sainthood


As we walked past West Richmond station, phones told us the Saints were already four goals in front. Late, because the Blues had been playing in the 4:30 slot and I’d protested we shouldn’t leave the TV until that had been resolved – which took until a final-minute, increasingly-typical Lewis Young saving mark at the GWS goal-mouth. In our party of six were a Dons and a Saints supporter, but perhaps my friends view me as having an especially pitiful obsession with my team. While we figured out the rigmarole of all meeting again inside the ground using a combination of MCC, AFL Members and GA entitlements, the Saints already five goals ahead, I was encouraged into buying the ‘victory’ jam donuts that typically, for me, commemorate Carlton MCG wins – as in, I bought ‘6 for $15’ (which were shared) from a van on the usual concourse, even though the side that’d earned them were a thousand kilometres away.


And then I turned my attention to the birthday celebrations of those who might qualify as distant team no. 2. The concept of a ‘second favourite team’ is fraught and oft-challenged, of course. The glaring unbelievable element in Garry Lyon and Felice Arena’s Specky Magee series was a tweenage Melburnian protagonist who professed to barrack for something like five teams at once, for various convoluted reasons apart from broader publishing appeal. What those of us in the real world understand is that Specky, in supporting five teams, really went for none. And that anybody who gets too assertive about their second team throws commitment to their first into question. This week, I’m prepared to risk it.


In a largely irrelevant corner of my psyche, I’ve always considered ‘next preferred’ to be the Saints and the Bulldogs. The latter because of an uncle who played and a characteristically exciting brand, although such westward sympathies have lapsed somewhat as a result of recent success and the comeback Sunday afternoon mauling delivered to the Blues in ’21. The Saints, meanwhile, were the team my dad’s family traditionally supported (some still do), for a reason I haven’t researched in time – possibly an affinity for Trevor Barker. From my perspective, they’ve remained relatively benign and are ever-deserving of pity for their inability to cash-in on the sterling squad they possessed in the 00s, as well as the fact the inglorious end to that era, when they clearly mourned a drawn grand final as a loss, came at Collingwood’s hands. I’m grateful, too, for a Saints clash providing one of my favourite football fan memories, when Etihad Stadium (or was it Telstra Dome?) rumbled dangerously from Friday night excitement as Chris Judd emerged from the interchange with his broken nose swaddled in Voldemort bandages.


A Saints marketing blitz for last night’s round 3 clash, including several weeks of ads adorning Kew Junction’s famous ‘Frydenberg’ hoardings, and pleas from club officials that “If you go to a single game this year, make it this one”, resulted in a turnout of 69,000. And yet I’ll grovel and admit the average St Kilda fan packs more emotion than those of other clubs. I’d even claim St Kilda supporters are the most ‘rusted-on’ in the league, for being unloosened by the WD-40 of underwhelming results and at-times cringeworthy supporter engagement, such as the ridiculously lethargic ‘O-o-h-h when the Saints’ that used to boom around their home stadiums after goals. Rather than premierships, the club looks to convince their supporters they’re on a good thing by holding aloft celebrity comrades – Bana, Meldrum, Warne, and supposedly famous MCG vandal Ed Sheeran. They’re galvanised by years of struggle, but commendably don’t do the ‘chip on the shoulder’ thing to a North Melbourne extent.


This year, the Saints look in the hunt for at least finals thanks largely to the psychological boost of Ross Lyon’s return and the reassurance that, though he dumped them a decade ago, they’d always orbited his heart tighter than Freo. The change of coach in a team that were solid in ’22, might’ve even reached finals if not for injuries, has also removed some of the burden for this season, lowering expectations beneath an appropriate mark. In saying this, they’ve already got a difficult injury list.


All sides are variously beneficiaries of player exchanges – even the crummiest list manager has a couple of players to hang their baseball caps on – but the Saints are truly a recycle superstore. The ‘Savers’ website doesn’t admit there’s franchise in Moorabbin. Without heralded recruits, the current squad have made do with savvy pick-ups such as Mason Wood (last night’s hero), Liam Stocker and belated pre-season signing Caminiti. Their vice-captain, and possible MVP, is one-time mature-age recruit Callum Wilkie. Granted, toppling Essendon in the present (or the Giants!) shouldn’t warrant lathering on too much praise, but believers are allowed an assessment that turning the Dons’ last quarter momentum and the sort of luck Jye Caldwell was having in front of goal exhibited the tide-turning ability that once got Israelites out of a similar bind. In true recycling fashion, it was a relocated, underappreciated Richmond small forward-line that helped to avoid the ignominy of a birthday bashing.


Our group spectated from high in the nosebleeds, the sort of elevation where you’re drawn to the small widescreen hanging bizarrely from titanic MCG beams, because those iron pillars would otherwise obscure a view of the larger, distant board. Admittedly, I proved my relative disengagement towards my second team by such bizarre acts as drinking a Canadian Club throughout the second half. This morning, I had to watch the match’s relevant ‘Kayo Bite’ to feel confident of even writing this piece. Notable, and unappreciated last night: Mason Wood’s laser kicking, the blistering lengths of Dan Butler’s runs (as opposed to the ant scuttling I saw) and the historic collars on the birthday guernseys. Also, the fact that predictably, come final siren, the Channel Seven producers flicked from Jack Higgins (a leading goal-scorer), then to Eric Bana (emotional; either proud of his side or ruminating on Hollywood missteps), then, kind of beautifully, to the mighty, symbolic emblazon of Shane Warne’s vantage.


Sainters, best wishes for the rest of the year, within reason.


Little-known performer of the week: My dear friend C.M. who, rugged in a fleece and a Bombers scarf with new skipper Merrett’s badge, endured both the heights of his team’s comeback and the fall of the Saints’ response. Additionally, with Gandhi-esque qualities, he avoided retaliating to pest-friend and Hawks supporter H.M. crowing ‘Knock, knock’ lines provocatively into his ear (first response ‘Owen’, second response ‘Oh when the Saints!’). It was a period, really, where C.M.’s strength of character was fully displayed, and I was made to reflect on how no companion would be likely to similarly taunt me in a context involving the Blues, for they’d know I wouldn’t necessarily also take Gandhi as a role model. Having said all this, I’d have felt sorrier for C.M. if he hadn’t happily agreed to getting to the ground late for his Bombers, definitely preferring the prospect of watching Carlton collapse to a less fancied team on TV. In sport, sometimes, you get what you deserve.

bottom of page