Barren winter ahead for success-starved St Kilda
Sam Gilbert of St Kilda after 2011 elimination final (Slattery Images)
It’s unusual to write an obituary for a team coming off a win and sitting sixth place on the ladder with a 3-2 record and a percentage of 146, but it’s high time that the last rites were administered to this St Kilda side.
Nick Riewoldt will not win a premiership at St Kilda. Lenny Hayes will not win a premiership at St Kilda. Nick Dal Santo will not win a premiership at St Kilda.
Neither will Sam Fisher, Leigh Montagna, or Steven Milne. Ditto Justin Koschitzke.
Jason Blake will retire without a premiership medal or a Brownlow vote. Clinton Jones will hang up the boots content in the knowledge that he got everything out of himself, but without tasting the ultimate success.
Adam Schneider won a flag at Sydney, so he’ll have reunions to go to, where the drinks will surely flow. His St Kilda brethren will not be invited.
Apart from Schneider, all of the above will be 29 or older at round one next year, and even Adam will be but a month away. All are still in the Saints’ best 22, with most still in the Saints’ best ten, but there is no improvement to come from any.
Schneider is suffering from a hamstring injury and is yet to play this year, and Kosi was suspended, but the rest played on Saturday night in a team that struggled to put away a Melbourne side that has handed Brisbane and Richmond their only wins of the year, by 41 and 59 points respectively.
St Kilda’s 18 point buffer was the lowest winning margin this year against the Demons, a side that is widely tipped to be 0-11 when they hit the bye.
Also running around for the Saints were Jason Gram and Sean Dempster (both 28 and with obvious limitations), and the likes of Dean Polo and Sam Gilbert, much-maligned 26 year olds, who draw the ire of supporters for good reason.
At least Dempster will be joining Schneider at those Sydney reunions.
The fall of Gilbert has been stunning. An All-Australian nominee in 2009, and third in the best and fairest in a grand final year in 2010, he was a once-feared marking and running half-back who now struggles to find the ball, and prefers kicking out on the full or to opposition players when he does.
With the exception of Dean Polo, the players mentioned so far formed the nucleus of the grand Ross Lyon-led St Kilda. And what a team they were.
History looks on winners favourably, and as the saying goes, losers can please themselves, but we shouldn’t forget just how good the Saints in 2009 were, despite the fact that Geelong were the premiers.
With a frenzied, fanatical mindset, they embodied everything good about team defence, and were the hardest team to score against in over 40 years.
I can still vividly recall a round seven match from that year, against Collingwood who were fifth at the time.
St Kilda were manic in their intensity, and you could see the fear in the Magpie players’ eyes when they got the ball, because they knew they were about to be swarmed over, with no friendly options in sight.
The Saints won that match by 88 points, against a side that would finish top four that year and win a flag a year later, defeating the very same St Kilda after having perfected their own defensive press.
Riewoldt and Co came so close to grand final glory, and but for a well-documented Matthew Scarlett toe-poke here, and an ill-fated bounce of the ball there, they could all be dual premiership players.
Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t to be, and here we now stand with a side that went up a hill and are coming down a mountain.
Round two and three thumpings of inept opposition shouldn’t shield the fact that this is a club on the slide, and losses to Port (its only victory this year, and a side that won one of its last twelve in 2011) and Fremantle in Melbourne (which wins in this part of the country roughly as often as there are drawn grand finals) give us a clearer indication of what is to come.
The price of contending is that you don’t get the rock-solid early draft picks, and the young players on the list are not introduced.
This has never been clearer than St Kilda under Ross Lyon, and a vacuum has been created in the 19-25 year old age group, with only Jack Steven, David Armitage, Ben McEvoy and Jarryn Geary able to sneak through.
As the older brigade are retired or traded over the next few years, this tiny core is supposed to lead the next generation into the light.
History suggests that you need more than that, and I fully expect these four players to be in their 30s by the time the Saints re-emerge as a premiership contender.
Arguably the best of the St Kilda players is Brendan Goddard, noticeably yet to be mentioned.
Two or three years younger than the rest of the top-end talent, a player of his quality could play well into his thirties either behind the ball or in front of it, and there is some slim chance that he could live the Shane Crawford fairytale by retiring a 300-game player with the final one resulting in a premiership medallion. Not for mine though.
Make no mistake, the St Kilda Football Club are on the precipice of a long, dark, cold winter, akin to something out of Game of Thrones.
Which is a shame for a champion team that didn’t win the ultimate prize, and a shame for the champion players who have carried them for so long.
But such is their fate. So rug up Saints fans, you’re going to be out in the cold for a while yet.
Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.