After sacking their coach and losing their most decorated player for a Mars bar and can of Coke, on face value 2019 was just another in an increasingly long list of forgettable seasons for the Saints. However, after managing nine wins despite an horrific run with injuries and an impressive trade period, it might be a year that is looked back upon as a turning point in the club’s history.
What Went Right?
The emergence of Rowan Marshall was without question the biggest positive for the club in 2019. By season’s end the 23-year-old from Portland was being discussed as one of the most promising ruckmen in the competition. A remarkable achievement given he wasn’t even in the Saints best 22 for Round One.
The club brought in a number of mature aged players from state leagues at the end of the 2018 season, and while most showed glimpses of what they could offer there was one who stood out above the rest. South Australian Callum Wilkie was a revelation in defence for the Saints in 2019. The 2018 North Adelaide Premiership player showed remarkable maturity and elite decision making in the back half, which had fans quickly forgetting he had played just 22 games, not 200, by seasons end.
There were also a couple of young guns who showed enough to have Saints fans a little excited about what the future holds. While Josh Battle was eventually rewarded for his season with a Rising Star nomination in Round 22, that it took that long had many wondering if the AFL actually knew he was eligible for the award. Hunter Clark had shown glimpses of what he could offer in his debut season in 2018, but the second of 2019 saw him produce consistently. Hard, tough and skilful, the midfielder from Mount Martha looms as an important player in the Saints future.
What Went Wrong?
Injuries were a constant thorn in the side for the men from Moorabbin, with a large number of quality players watching considerable portions of the season from the sidelines. Among those who watched more games than they played were captain Jarryn Geary, Jake Carlisle, Jack Steven, Dylan Roberton, Paddy McCartin, Dan Hannebery and Jimmy Webster.
As has been the story for the team for a few seasons now, too often the Saints would let themselves down with ball use and kicking for goal in 2019. Unable to extract full toll from their efforts, it would see momentum and opportunities surrendered. In a competition with fine lines between the best and worst teams, you simply cannot afford to butcher chances when they come your way.
The media glare that was trained on Alan Richardson from midway through last season was an unwelcomed distraction in 2019. The jungle drums were loud before the season began and only continued to drown out any other noise emanating from Moorabbin. In the end given the Saints reasoning for cutting ties with Richardson, it might have been avoidable given 2019’s results had little bearing on the decision to cut ties with the club’s second longest serving coach.
Look the Round Five victory over Mebourne was perhaps the teams most complete performance in 2019, but their victory over Hawthorn a week earlier was our favourite Saints win. It mightn’t have been the prettiest spectacle but the grit shown had its own beauty. Twelve months after losing to the same opposition in similar circumstances, they refused to be beaten this time. Recovering from 28-points down in the second half, the Saints kicked five of the last six goals to claim a thrilling victory.
With due respect to Trevor Barker Medallist Seb Ross, there was only one man in the running for this recognition. Having to shoulder the ruck load almost singlehandedly, Rowan Marshall was huge for the Saints both literally and figuratively in 2019.
Rarely beaten in the ruck battles despite giving up size and experience on many occasions, Marshall hurt his opponents around the ground with his possession winning and clearance work. A good kick for goal, and a strong mark he has the ability to be damaging up forward too.
In a difficult season for Saints fans, Marshall was a ray of light who provided something to be excited about. Only 24-years-old when the 2020 season kicks off, Marshall will have plenty of opportunities to continue doing so.
Coming from a four win season in 2018, nine wins was a considerable improvement in just 12 months. Combined with the long injury list they had to contend with most weeks, it is enough for middle of the road status for the Saints. Expectations will be higher in 2020 though and similar results may not be viewed as generously.