What to make of St Kilda’s 2012?
Nick Riewold is grabbing his opportunities again (Slattery Images)
There’s been plenty to admire about St Kilda post-Ross Lyon.
From the poaching of list manager Chris Pelchin from Hawthorn to the seemingly inspired appointment of rookie coach Scott Watters and finally to their most recent handling of Brendan Goddard whose huge contract demands they weren’t prepared to comply with.
Brave choices by a club who scaled some serious heights over the last decade but who perhaps got caught napping by Lyon’s defection to Fremantle.
Many in the football community indeed had already started writing the obituary for the Saints in the wake of Lyon leaving, citing an aging, top heavy list and a game plan soaked in conservatism.
Yet more than twelve months on the Saints have many reasons to feel good about themselves even if Watters’ first season was only good enough for ninth place and in losing Goddard to free agency they lost one of their very best players of the past decade.
Where Watters can hang his hat is a total reinvigoration of the game plan in addition to a serious injection of rejuvenation into the list.
The Saints can enter 2013 confident that David Armitage and Jack Steven will be among their most important midfield cogs, while Ben McEvoy, if consistent, has shown he has what it takes to be one of the competition’s premier ruckmen.
The moves last pre season for Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera proved inspired, with the pair combining for 47 goals, and adding the zip and defence not usually found in St Kilda’s forward line in recent times.
And indeed it was in attack where the Saints showed most obvious improvement last season scoring a hefty 456 points more than they did in the final season of the Ross Lyon regime, with their 2,347 points scored in fact qualifying as the 5th most fertile season in St Kilda’s history.
Not bad for a team deemed old, slow and incapable of making the scoreboard tick.
Yet it’s in that vast offensive improvement where the Saints should perhaps be most concerned.
Over the last 33 seasons dating back to 1980, there have been 27 cases of teams improving their offensive production by more than at least 400 points in a given season, with Melbourne’s 707 point improvement from 1999-2000 constituting the most vigorous leap.
Yet of those previous 27 cases there’s been a marked rate of stagnation following that breakout year.
In fact of those 27 teams, 15 actually went backwards (based on games won) with just nine teams actually improving, with three standing pat.
How did Melbourne fair after that 707 point improvement? Well they went from 14 wins and a Grand Final appearance to 10 wins and 11th place on the ladder. Which (sad as seems) seems to be a familiar story among these break out candidates.
Furthermore, of the nine that did improve, all were on the brink, (bar the early 1980s Demons), of seriously good times, which in the case of Adelaide, Port Adelaide, North Melbourne, West Coast and Geelong included premierships, and in the Bulldogs case, three straight years of preliminary finals.
In short, of the teams that posted vast offensive improvements, only the really genuine were able to parlay those gains into meaningful runs.
The rest, and 18 of 27 is undeniably quite striking, either fell away or at best stayed the same, unable to generate anything further.
Which brings us right back to the Saints.
Was their break-out, 456-point addition a sign of a serious, durable change bought about through some of the excellent list management decisions of the past 12 months, coupled with a highly effective game plan conjured by Scott Watters and his coaching crew?
Or rather was St Kilda’s 2012 big offensive ‘hello’ simply a statistical glitch, assisted greatly by the advent of expansion teams and by a group of players feeling the breeze of new management sweeping the team?
Whatever the case, 2013 shapes as a really intriguing season for St Kilda in their post Ross Lyon era and their attempt at forging a new and hopefully enduring identify under Scott Watters.