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With the regular season wrapped up, I will start to review each club’s season. As always, I will begin with the last-placed team, which this year is St Kilda.
It’s very hard to believe that four years ago this team came to within a wobbly bounce of claiming what would have been only their second flag in more than a century of existence.
However, so much has changed in the intervention and this has included the departure of two coaches in controversial circumstances. Ross Lyon left the club at the end of 2011 to take up an offer at Fremantle, while Scott Watters was unexpectedly shown the door last November despite his job never being in any real danger.
After finishing 16th last year and with an ageing list, it was no surprise that many AFL experts predicted them to finish with the wooden spoon this year, and that is exactly what has happened.
Let’s now take a look at what went right and wrong for the club this year, and recap some of their best and worst results this year.
Final ladder position: 18th (4-18, 60.8 percentage)
Rising Star nominees: Luke Dunstan (round one), Jack Billings (round fourteen)
Retirees/delistees: Beau Maister, Lenny Hayes, James Gwilt, Clinton Jones
What went right?
They may have been tipped by many to win the spoon prior to the season, but the Saints were able to prove anything but, winning three of their first five matches in the Alan Richardson era, just as they did under Scott Watters in early 2012.
This included victories against the only teams to finish below them in 2013, Melbourne (in Round 1 by 17 points) and GWS (the following round by seven points), as well as Essendon (round five by 17 points).
There was also one notable victory which will be recapped a little later.
Results aside, the Saints were also able to blood some new talent, including Luke Dunstan, who on debut against the Dees won the first AFL Rising Star nomination of the year and has inherited the number seven guernsey vacated by Lenny Hayes.
Jack Billings was the club’s only other Rising Star nominee, kicking three goals and gaining 25 touches against the West Coast Eagles at Etihad Stadium midway through the year.
Additionally, captain Nick Riewoldt and the now-retired Lenny Hayes continued to deliver on the field, both being key figures in most of the club’s four victories this year although Hayes did miss the win over the Dees in Round 1.
What went wrong?
After starting the season brightly, the Saints then won only one of their remaining eighteen matches, including losing eleven in a row between Rounds 6-17, during which they were largely uncompetitive with the average losing margin being 62.8 points.
They also had to contend with a horror injury toll which saw the likes of Eli Templeton, Jarryn Geary, Sam Gilbert, Arryn Siposs, Dunstan and many others spend some time on the sidelines through injuries.
Maister was forced to retire in June due to a shoulder injury, bringing an end to a career which spanned two clubs and 44 games. Dunstan also opted to end his season early after Round 18 to undergo shoulder surgery.
Additionally, just four years after being the best defensive team of seasons 2009 and 2010, the Saints crashed to having the worst defence in season 2014, coughing up 2,436 points at an average of 110.72 points a match.
With club icon Lenny Hayes having hung up the boots, and Nick Riewoldt seemingly on his last legs, the immediate future looks very bleak for the Saints. However, as the saying goes, the only way is up.
Best win: Round 18 versus Fremantle at Etihad Stadium (won 17.16 (118) to 9.6 (60))
During their patch of largely uncompetitive performances there was one result which really stood out from the rest, and that was their shock 58-point thrashing of Fremantle in the first half of Round 18.
The Saints had entered the match on the back of eleven losses in succession, while the Ross Lyon-coached Dockers docked into Etihad Stadium not only riding an eight-match winning streak, but with the chance to claim provisional first place on the ladder with the Sydney Swans still to play Hawthorn that round.
But after club stalwart Lenny Hayes announced his retirement earlier in the week, the Saints would throw the form book out the window and lead all night, including by 68 points at the final change.
In doing so they denied the Dockers top spot on the ladder and for them it would eventually cost the club a top-two finish and double home ground advantage in the finals.
Worst loss: Round 7 versus Hawthorn at the MCG (lost 4.6 (30) to 27.13 (175)
The Saints’ need to rebuild and clean up the mess left behind by the sacking of Scott Watters was brutally exposed on a dirty Saturday afternoon at the MCG on May 3, when the club was thrashed by reigning premiers Hawthorn by 145 points.
It was only five years ago when Ross Lyon implemented a game plan which turned the Saints into one of the best defensive teams in the competition, and one which almost delivered the club the 2009 flag.
But how times have changed since then, as they coughed up 27 goals against the reigning premiers, who proved that they could still score heavily even after Lance Franklin left them at the end of last year.
The Saints’ attack was just as worse, managing only four goals and being held scoreless in the second quarter, during which they conceded the first 15 inside-50s to the Hawks.
The blood-letting at St Kilda has continued. On the back of the retirements of Beau Maister and Lenny Hayes, the club has cut James Gwilt and Clinton Jones from the list as it goes about taking the long road back up to the top.
As a result of the club finishing with the wooden spoon this year, they will have the first pick in this November’s draft, which the Saints should use on promising midfielder Christian Petracca.
We have seen Hawthorn rise from second-last on the ladder this time a decade ago to a current AFL powerhouse. That is the model the Saints should look to as they seek to return to the upper echelon of the ladder.
But while the immediate future will be very difficult for the club and their supporters, there is no doubt that the Saints, whose young talent and experience mixes in very well, will one day become a force again.
They need not look back as far as the period between 2000, the year of the club’s most recent wooden spoon until this year, and 2010, when they got to within a wobbly bounce of winning the flag, as inspiration.
The Saints’ poor season that year allowed them to net Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke with the first two picks in that year’s draft. Later joined at the club by the likes of Fraser Gehrig, Nick dal Santo and Brendon Goddard, the Saints then went on to become a consistent club in the second half of the noughties, but with no flags to show for their efforts.
Therefore, there is reason for the Saints and their fans to believe.