It’s been a tough old couple of years for St Kilda fans, with no September appearances since Ross Lyon walked out the door at the end of 2011.
Scott Watters lasted just two seasons, Alan Richardson got nowhere in just under six seasons and now it’s Brett Ratten’s turn to try and right the ship at Moorabbin.
Here are four burning questions for St Kilda heading into Round 2.
I was certain the Saints were going to make a statement against Rhyce Shaw’s Kangaroos in Round 1 and, for 32 minutes, they did.
But they fell to pieces in a shocking second half, forfeiting a 29-point advantage against a side with just two fit men on the bench to lose by two points.
If you’re a glass half-full person, you can point to the fact they held North Melbourne to two goals in the first half, were superbly efficient (albeit inaccurate) inside 50 and got a great debut out of Max King.
They were also one of just eight teams in Round 1 to field a side with fewer than 90 games of experience on average.
But they had a huge opportunity to stamp themselves as a team on the rise on Round 1 and came up short. Saints fans would hope Ratten has got to the bottom of what happened.
No team made a bigger splash at the trade table last season than St Kilda.
Jack Steven, Josh Bruce and Blake Acres were traded out, while Jack Newnes was allowed to walk to the Blues.
The upheaval didn’t stop there, with David Armitage retiring and former promising youngsters Paddy McCartin and Billy Longer being delisted.
The reinforcements were plentiful, however, with Brad Hill, Zak Jones, Dougal Howard, Paddy Ryder and Dan Butler all coming in.
Coupled with the acquisition of Dan Hannebery the previous off-season, it’s clear the Saints are trying to rejig the list and get some traction after years of kicking tires.
Hill, Hannebery and Ryder might be big names, but I’d be tempering expectations of a quick rise if I were a Saints fan.
But that doesn’t mean the trading won’t be worth it in the end.
Ryder is 32 and is clearly just there to mentor promising youngster Rowan Marshall, but Hill (26), Jones (25), Butler (24) and Howard (24) will be around for the long haul and all came fairly cheaply.
Howard especially was an absolute steal. The vitriolic reaction Port fans had to that deal was evidence of how one-sided it will end up being.
Ratten has the highest pedigree of this year’s new coaching quintet, but – bar Fremantle – should have the lowest expectations for this season.
That’s nothing to do with his coaching ability; it’s entirely to do with the status of the club’s list.
Even with the aggressive trading in the off-season, a bottom-four finish in 2020 is perfectly acceptable, so long as they don’t fall below seven wins and don’t see their average losing margin blow out.
Instead, what St Kilda fans should be demanding is improvement in their promising crop of young players.
The aforementioned Marshall looks to be one of the most exciting young rucks in the game. I hope they find the right balance between giving him development time and staying competitive with Ryder in the middle.
Up forward, obviously it’s Max King’s development that will be the main focus. Butler has been brought in to help the small forward department, but it’d be nice to see someone else break out in that area too.
Jack Lonie applies plenty of pressure, but would like to hit the scoreboard a bit more, while a career year for someone like Nick Hind or Ben Long would be welcome.
In defence, it’s time to move on from out-of-contract key defensive duo Jake Carlisle and Nathan Brown. The Saints were horribly leaky down back last season and it’s time to bite the bullet and give Josh Battle the keys alongside Logan Austin.
St Kilda’s finals absence is, apart from Gold Coast, the longest in the AFL at the moment.
They had ninth-place finishes in 2012 and 2016, but they’ve been decided also-rans in every other season since 2011 – including a wooden spoon in 2014.
But I’d still give them another year or two before worrying about a return to September football.
The list is very much on the young side – with just three players over 30 – and by the end of this season should have seven players with 50 games of experience under the age of 25.
Building a list properly takes time and while long finals absences aren’t fun for anyone, you’re better off making your return to the knockout stage worth the wait.