The lost generation of St Kilda players seems to be hurting the Saints more than they thought. Having being pushed by a rebuilding Brisbane Lions, drawing to Richmond, and being demolished by Essendon, the Saints are looking down its list to a saviour, someone to step in and provide the spark that is desperately needed. Yet, I feel they have lost that player in their lost generation.
Mark Stevens from the Herald Sun came out with an article in Thursday’s paper reporting that former Richmond and Western Bulldogs coach Terry Wallace said that talent identification and list management was now the key to success. Wallace highlights the draft choices by the Essendon Football Club as ‘nailing its early picks’ as crucial for its quick development. Yet he criticized the list management and recruitment whilst he was at helm of the Richmond Football Club. Sympathising with the importance of the 2004 draft, he referred to bad recruiting where “we had five selections in the top 20, and only one of those in Brett Deledio is still at the club.” Wallace believes that the lost generation of that 2004 draft should be in the Richmond team today, but due to bad recruitment and list management the pressure falls onto more recent picks to fill those wholes.
This highlights to me the basis of problems that we see at St Kilda in 2011. After starting the 2011 AFL season with one unconvincing win over Brisbane, one draw (Richmond), a bye and two losses (Geelong and Essendon), the Saints have been under the heat from supporters, reporters and the football community alike. The fast paced game makes St Kilda look slow, predictable, stagnated and unable to kick goals against the quicker transition football that is now played in the AFL. I think that this is a reflection of the lack of opportunity given to draft picks and terrible list management since 2003.
In-between the years that Collingwood has drafted, maintained and recruited a Premiership team, St Kilda has opted for recycled players and turned its list over without giving a hint of a chance to the majority of those drafted. The attitude towards drafting mature age and recycled players can be seen in a quote on the ‘afl.com.au’ website in 2009 from John Beveridge who was the former St Kilda Recruitment Manager from 1983 until 2007. Beveridge stated “you can’t expect kids at 19 or 20 to be ready to play a whole season of AFL footy and make a major contribution – that rarely happens”, a statement that today can be scoffed at due to the impact made by first year players such as Joel Selwood, Steele Sidebottom, Dustin Martin, Michael Barlow, and Cyril Rioli.
It seems that the list management of St Kilda under Beveridge, and opportunities given to young draft picks under Ross Lyon, has created a lost generation of players that should be challenging and pushing for selection in the St Kilda team of 2011. Since 2003 St Kilda has drafted 60 players of which 36 were delisted, retired, or quit. Critically, in 2007 Carlton’s draft picks have averaged 23.2 games, compared to St Kilda’s 3.4 games averaged. The story repeats itself in 2008 where Collingwood’s draft picks have averaged 13.5 games, compared to a dismal 4.8 games by St Kilda’s picks.
The significance of a generation loss of players becomes more important when we look at the competition and who they drafted when St Kilda chose to recycle and give opportunities to ageing players instead of the youth. In 2006 Collingwood drafted Ben Reid, Nathan Brown, Chris Dawes, Brad Dick, Tyson Goldsack, Sharrod Wellingham, and Brent Macaffer, and all are the future of Collingwood in 2011. However, we look at the opportunities given to St Kilda’s draft of 2006 where 11 players were drafted and averaged 20.6 games. Compared to Collingwood’s 9 players drafted and an average of 39.7 games.
Since the draft that St Kilda took Brendan Goddard at number one, there has been a severe depletion of draft picks and opportunities given compared to nearly every other AFL club. John Beveridge’s statement that you can’t expect a 19 or 20 year old to make an impact in the AFL has become the norm to expect that of your draft picks, and to see them push and fight for selection. Who are the next generation of Saints? What has Ross Lyon been doing at St Kilda to install a dynasty at St Kilda, like that we see Mick Malthouse doing at Collingwood?
The generation loss of players between 2003 and 2007 has hurt St Kilda more than it thought, especially in last years Grand Final replay. St Kilda fans have been bagging the slow play, kicking the ball backwards, and possession football ever since Ross Lyon came to St Kilda, now that the game has become transition football and defensive press structured, can Ross Lyon rejuvenate his team, his tactics, and his players? Or has the lost generation of draft picks hurt the ‘Mighty’ Saints too much?