St Kilda’s premiership window is all but shut

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Arryn Siposs of the Saints celebrates during the 2013 AFL round 07 match between the St Kilda Saints and the Carlton Blues. Photographer: Michael Willson

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Being a St Kilda fan, it was hard to see the Saints get easily beaten up by North Melbourne last weekend.

The 68-point loss to a team that had lost four games by less than a goal last week is vindication that the Saints’ premiership window is all but shut after so many years in contention under the masterful coaching of Ross Lyon.

And under Scott Watters, it appears the Saints aren’t making any progress at all this season. And when you consider their three leading stars – Nick Riewoldt, Justin Koschitzke and Lenny Hayes – are all on the wrong side of 30 – it’s clear that the Saints need to rebuild to remain in contention for an elusive second flag.

Add to that the departure of Brendon Goddard to Essendon via the free agency system and you have a side that clearly needs to rebuild.

St Kilda are the Vera Zvonareva of the AFL – after so many years in contention following long periods of under-performance, the window is all but shut.

The two wins they have only managed from ten rounds this season is their worst return since the dark days of the early 2000s when the club was languishing near (or at) the bottom of the ladder. At the time, the Saints appeared nothing like the team that they would eventually become.

Historically, the Saints have been the least successful club in AFL history, with its solitary premiership in 1966 (won by one point against Collingwood) being complimented by a record 26 wooden spoons.

In the year of its’ most recent last-place finish, in 2000, they had won wooden spoons in almost a quarter of the VFL/AFL’s existence.

And if it hadn’t been for that bounce which eluded Stephen Milne late in the drawn grand final against Collingwood in 2010, the Saints may have had a second premiership under their belts and the Pies wouldn’t be what they are trying to achieve now, trying to equal Carlton and Essendon as the two most successful clubs in the AFL (16 premierships each).

Many believe the drawn grand final, and the subsequent thrashing they copped in the replay, will hurt the club in the long term.

In fact, across both the Collingwood and St Kilda squads for those two matches, the only premiership players at the time had played in the Sydney Swans’ premiership side just five years earlier.

The Swans, like the Saints, had suffered from prolonged periods of non-success; the flag in 2005 was the battling club’s first in 72 years. It only took them another seven years to win a fifth flag, last year.

If the 2009 and 2010 grand final losses are an indication, it won’t be until at least another five years until the Saints are back in contention again.

By then, it’s very likely the Saints’ big three of Riewoldt, Koschitzke and Hayes will be gone, but there are already players who are starting to excite like Maister, Saad (whose game can easily be compared to the Cyril Rioli’s and Lewis Jetta’s) and Milera, who I believe are the future of this club.

I say this because it took more than five years for Collingwood to recover from their own pair of grand final losses in 2002 and 2003. In two subsequent seasons since, the Pies finished in the bottom four, however, having picked up some of their current big stars in Thomas, Pendlebury and co. during that period, the Pies have once again become a force and haven’t missed the finals since 2005.

Saints fans also need to remember that the rebuilding process will take a very long time, and there will be long-term pain, such as what the club is experiencing right now.

Hawthorn experienced it in 2005 and 2006 in the years following Peter Schwab’s sacking after a horror 2004 season in which they finished second-last. In that year’s draft, they picked up Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead, two players who now feature prominently in their forward line. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, the Hawks are a powerhouse team and their 2008 premiership was a result of years of hard work. Likewise for Sydney and Collingwood, who had to endure long premiership droughts before tasting their glories in 2005 and 2010 respectively.

While it’s not too late for the Saints to make the finals, it appears very likely the team won’t feature in September this year. The off-season needs to be spent reviewing their playing list, turning it over if necessary and recruiting new talent in the draft.

Unfortunately for long suffering Saints supporters, including their two most famous supporters, Shane Warne and Molly Meldrum – another premiership may not be forthcoming while both are still alive. But one would hope to finally see the Saints taste premiership glory – just when is the question.

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