Hopes of an unlikely finals appearance were extinguished on Saturday night when the Saints fell to the Crows at the Adelaide Oval. It was a performance that was let down by a few lapses at the beginning of the second and third terms but prompted Coach Brett Ratten to exclaim that the problems faced were ‘fixable things’ post match.
While Ratten pointed to contested ball, clearances and Inside 50’s to explain his bullishness, the best players list was perhaps an even greater reason for optimism. Four of the six nominated players – Jack Billings, Rowan Marshall, Callum Wilkie and Jack Steele – all 23 years old or younger.
As a result of a long list of injured and unavailable players throughout the season, it has been necessary for the Saints to fast track games into some of the younger players on the list. This was on display again on the weekend with the club once again fielding one of the youngest and least experienced teams in the competition.
Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield are just two players that have prospered under these circumstances. In recent weeks the pair of first round draft picks have produced some of the best footy of their short careers. In time this exposure to the big time will be looked back upon as the blessing in disguise of the Saints 2019 injury woes.
While there may be a reward in the long term as a result of these young teams taking the field, in the short term it may have played a role in the defeat to the Crows. For large parts of the match the Saints were able to hang with and pressure their more experienced opponents but failed in some big moments to take advantage of their ascendancy.
As much as inexperience played a role in the outcome, it would be wrong to lay the blame fully at the feet of the gap in games played. After having punished the Bulldogs and Demons on the turnover in recent weeks, the Saints were on the receiving end this time with their errors proving costly. The Crows most effective path to goal throughout the match being on the end of Saints mistakes with more than half their score generated from turnovers.
Decision making a factor in a number of these errors as well as in the Saints inability to take advantage of a territorial advantage in the game. Despite the form of Tim Membrey and Josh Bruce in recent weeks, the team was consistently incapable of anything other than shallow entries when going forward.
It is perhaps understandable then why the club seems to be mentioned as possible destinations for each skilful wantaway players in the competition. While the quest for Stephen Coniglio appears a forlorn one, the interest in Bradley Hill and Isaac Smith seem promising if recent reports are to be believed. Whether or not either player is enticed to Moorabbin, it appears that the club is hellbent on answering their need for speed and skill. If they are successful, the club’s rise up the ladder could be more swift than is currently expected.
It is unsurprising then that Brett Ratten is vocal in both his desire for the coaching job full time and of the fact that the club’s problems are fixable things. Whether or not he will be the man the club appoints to oversee the repair job, there is reason for Saints fans to heed his optimism. The result mightn’t have been what we wanted but there was undeniable promise in the defeat.
AFL 2019 – ROUND 20
ADELAIDE 4.1 6.4 10.7 14.8 (92)
ST KILDA 3.2 5.5 7.7 10.10 (70)
Adelaide: Walker 4, Betts 3, M.Crouch 2, Lynch, Douglas, Fogarty, Smith, Murphy
St Kilda: Membrey 3, Hind, Long, Lonie, Gresham, Ross, Bruce, Parker
Adelaide: M.Crouch, Walker, Laird, Betts, Talia, Gibbs
St Kilda: Billings, Marshall, Membrey, Wilkie, Ross, Steele
St Kilda: Jack Newnes (illness) and Ben Paton (illness) replaced in the selected side by Matthew Parker and Daniel McKenzie.
Umpires: Margetts, Brown, Findlay
Official crowd: 39,984 at Adelaide Oval