St.Kilda fans have traditionally down it tougher than most. Richmond fans find constant frustration in their lack of success since their last flag in 1980 and last Grand Final in 1982 but the Saints have won one flag. Ever. In 1966. They have made just seven Grand Finals in 118 years in the league and have long been the poster child for non-success.
Under Ross Lyon, the Saints had arguably their most sustained period of success in history between 2007-2011 as they made four finals series, won a minor premiership and made three Grand Finals going so close to the ultimate success in both 2009 and 2010, running into a great Geelong team and then being involved in an epic draw despite all-time great performances from stars Lenny Hayes and Brendon Goddard, who along with Nick Riewoldt played such a huge role in the Saints’ excellence over this period. But for a bad bounce of the ball, history may view St.Kilda and Lyon so differently as this video shows at about the 6 minute mark:
2014 ended with the Saints ‘winning’ the wooden spoon for a record 27th time in their history and most pundits and media commentators expected 2015 to be just as tough a challenge, with some predicting the Saints would struggle to win a game.
13 games into the season and they have been one of the surprise packets of the season. Following their 110 point dismembering of Essendon this past weekend, they find themselves in 13th place with five wins. Aside from thrashings from Collingwood in Round 3 and Hawthorn in Round 8 they have largely been competitive. A small group of veterans including the inimitable Nick Riewoldt is leading possibly the most exciting young group in the AFL, albeit one that doesn’t get the publicity of some others.
The standout performers have largely come from the most unlikely quarters – David Armitage and Josh Bruce. Armitage has tempted with brilliance often throughout his 120 game career but has taken the consistency of performance to another level this season, ranking 3rd in the league in disposals while he is the only player in the AFL in the top 20 in uncontested and contested possessions. Add the fact that he ranks 14th in clearances and leads the league in effective disposals per game and you have a legitimate top shelf midfielder.
Bruce is an interesting study. After 14 games in two years at the Greater Western Sydney Giants, Bruce wanted to join St.Kilda and so it happened as the Saints traded pick 48 in the national draft. On the surface, it was one of many draft day deals that are reported on because they need to be. Fast forward two years and Bruce sits second in the Coleman Medal. Ahead of players such as Cameron, Jack Riewoldt, Franklin, Betts and Cloke. There is no luck here, as Bruce is a very talented young player who has found his niche at the Saints. Having Nick Rieowldt as on-field support and the main target for opposition players has benefited Bruce, but it would be a brave person to think his output will drop off.
Bruce and Armitage are far from the only story at Moorabbin, as young midfielder Jack Steven and Leigh Montagna support Armitage in the midfield and veteran Nick Riewoldt seems destined to never slow down, continuing to perform at an elite level. Jack Newnes and Jarryn Geary lead the supporting cast doing the grunt work and recent draft picks Jack Billings, Luke Dunstan, Jack Lonie, Patrick McCartin, Seb Ross and Jack Sinclair give St.Kilda fans confidence that this revival is not just a flash in the pan.
A few things stand out statistically in searching for the reasons behind such a vast improvement in a short period of time. They rank 7th in possessions, 5th in uncontested possessions and 7th in disposal efficiency this season after ranking 17th, 14th and 11th in those categories in 2014. Their opponents rank high in all three categories as they did last season. After ranking next-to-last in points scored and having the worst defence in 2014, they rank 9th in scoring and have improved their defence to the 14th best in the league. This is still a poor rating, but they are conceding more than 2 less goals per game this season than they did last and scoring 3 more goals per game. That is a five goal improvement; despite being inflated by the demolition of a woeful Essendon this differential shows this young list is coming on in leaps and bounds.
Riewoldt, Montagna, Sam Fisher, Adam Schneider and Sam Gilbert are all 31 or over and likely to move on in the next 12-24 months. Saints fans would have be dreading this time as they have considered it in the past few years but the like of Armitage, Bruce, Billings, Steven, Dunstan and Newnes makes the next ten years look far brighter than they otherwise would have been.