For the second trade period in a row St Kilda were big players in free agency and the draft, telegraphing from a fair way out who they were going out to get and holding their nerve to get the deals done.
It’s a risky strategy given how many clubs have gone down the same path and completely bombed out, conjuring memories of the Lions under Michael Voss recruiting a bunch of injury-prone veterans who wound up off the field more often than on it, including the infamous Brendan Fevola trade that sent the club into a seven-year spiral.
It is probably a surprising fact to many that St Kilda’s list is the oldest in the AFL, which is what happens when you go courting players in their 30s, as they did again this year, even tempting a player out of retirement to push their average age up to 25.4 years.
In free agency the Saints went after the biggest fish, attracting Brad Crouch from Adelaide, who held out as long as they could before settling for the pitiful compensation offered for their 2019 best and fairest. They also picked up unrestricted free agent, Shaun McKernan, from the Bombers.
St Kilda were very quiet in trade week until the final day, when Richmond extracted a high price for Jack Higgins, who sent with Pick 21 and a future fourth for Pick 17 and a future second.
The Saints also traded Nick Hind back to the Bombers for a scatter of useless picks that didn’t end up getting used, vacating a senior list spot, so expect the club to look at some players to draft in during the preseason and be active in the midseason draft as they currently have only 40 listed players.
A couple of weeks later Saints assistant coach Jarryd Roughead managed to coax his erstwhile Hawks premiership teammate James Frawley out of retirement, bringing a Frawley back to the club and providing some necessary playing assistant coach experience that is very much in vogue with the soft cap cuts seeing coaching staff decimated.
On draft night the Saints had to wait until the very end of the first round to pick at 26 after the pick slid five places, with Matthew Allison from Calder Cannons the draft bolter coming in before several other more highly fancied prospects.
Then they traded up for Pick 43 with Pick 54 and Richmond’s future fourth in a deal with the Hawks that helped St Kilda secure mature ager and former GWS academy graduate Tom Highmore, who spent the year at South Adelaide playing SANFL and will likely be a ready-made player.
Crouch is the midfield accumulator the Saints need to take the unit to the next level, provided he can stay out of trouble and jell with his new teammates.
McKernan appears to be a depth replacement for the injury to Paddy Ryder and will provide strong competition for the tall forwards in the preseason.
Frawley is a quality defender who the Saints have brought in to mentor the younger key defensive players on the list and model the behaviours required of professional players.
Higgins is the other piece of the puzzle for St Kilda’s run at the flag, with plans for the desperately unlucky former Tiger to run through the midfield and rotate forward, while there is still plenty of time for him to chase flags as the Saints look to consolidate themselves in the top eight.
Allison is a greenhorn key position player that has the versatility to play in the goal square or up the wings, yet he’ll take some time to develop and may not feature in the AFL this year.
Highmore is another mature ager for the Saints and looks set to be this year’s late bloomer, turning 23 on the eve of the season, slotting into the backline as a third tall with senior experience either in the senior team or for Sandringham.
St Kilda have delisted ten players, with a retirement and a trade bringing the number players leaving to 12, but they brought in only six players through the avenues available to them. They have up to three places to fill and will announce training lists soon.
The club’s 2021 draft position is good, although having to give their future second-rounder up for Higgins means their picks are a little shallow, so their strategy will be similar to this year and hoping they can find talent in the later rounds after their first pick.
A finals finish in 2020 augurs well for the club’s chances in 2021, though by the next trade period the list will have seven players past the age of 30. Then again, Geelong will have 12, while West Coast and Richmond will have eight each.
The Saints have planned for immediate success without regard to birth certificates, which appears to have been a winning strategy in 2020. However, with the most difficult fixture of all in 2021, they will need to draw deeply on their resources to get back to the finals, which explains their trade rationale.