DYLAN Roberton’s 2014 season was one that most players would rather forget.
But for the 23-year-old father of two, failing to learn from last year’s faults would be more significant than making the mistakes in the first place.
Following an excellent 2013 in which he played 20 games, finished 10th in the best and fairest and led the club for rebound 50s, Roberton stalled last season.
Seven senior games and a persistent ankle injury is all the smooth moving half-back had to show for his second year at the club following 37 matches at Fremantle.
His right ankle became so bad at times that accelerating while driving required great care and concentration.
Become a member. Click HERE or call 1300 GO SAINTS.
It all started in his 50th game, against Richmond in round 14, 2013. Roberton landed awkwardly in a marking contest with Daniel Jackson and tore ligaments in his ankle.
At the end of the season he had surgery, but by the time Alan Richardson arrived at the club, still didn’t feel anywhere near 100 per cent fit.
“The surgery didn’t really work,” Roberton admitted to SAINTS.com.au this week.
“I sort of fell behind the eight ball even before getting back to pre-season. With a new coach coming in that’s not really the way you want to start out, you want to be training and impressing.
“I still played round one but I just couldn’t keep up with the speed of the game. My change of direction was out and then trying to get up every week with a stiff ankle was really I tough.”
Having collected just three disposals up until three-quarter-time of St Kilda’s round two win over GWS last year, Roberton was subbed and then sent back to the VFL to find form.
No matter how hard he tried, keeping up with the pace game was impossible. At the age of 22, he harboured a harrowing feared that league football had gone past him.
Roberton played seven consecutive games for Sandringham, rested for two weeks, played another match and then had a further fortnight off – not that the interspersed layoffs made his ankle feel any better.
“I’d take a couple of weeks off and the ankle would come good and would be good for the training session and then be stiff for the game again,” he said.
“I didn’t want to blame injury for the way I was going so I just tried to get used to it.”
In hindsight, Roberton concedes he made two critical mistakes throughout this period: he wasn’t completely honest with the club’s medical staff and that he simply did not work hard enough.
“I probably should have been more upfront with the doctors earlier and actually told them about how worried I was about my ankle and my future,” he said.
“If I had have done that earlier it may not have wiped off my entire year the way it did.
“I guess sometimes I saw myself just going the motions at trainings. I conceded that I couldn’t sort of run so my attitude became lazy.”
Roberton’s honesty is refreshing. He speaks plainly and openly and is unfazed by his own candidness. His baby face is juxtaposed by a five o’clock shadow that in reality has probably taken days to acquire. Above all else, there is not a hint of ego in his body.
He wears the ‘nice guy’ tag off the field, but isn’t interested in carrying that demeanor across the white line.
“I’ve got two little boys, Boston and Henry and a little girl on the way in about seven weeks. It totally takes your mind off footy, being able to go down the park with the kids on days,” he said.
“I think both jobs are stressful; being a young dad and playing footy trying to get a game every week, but if you can see the positives of what you’re doing its good fun. I wouldn’t have my life any other way.”
On three occasions this season he has registered five or more tackles, but his higher than usual tackle count is just a by-product of his new role further afield, he says self-effacingly.
Funnily enough, when he was at his lowest ebb, about halfway through last season, it was a familiar face that spurred him on.
“Richo had a similar sort of injury when he played, so he was really good about it and understood how hard it was to get right,” Roberton said.
“He understood where I was coming from because he’s been through it. This gave me some comfort even though I knew that physically I was struggling.”
At the end of the 2014 season, Roberton was due to fly to Mexico for a holiday with a dozen teammates. 10 weeks off would do his ankle the world of good he was told.
But deep down, he knew that with one year left on his contract, surgery was essential.
“I just thought that if I have another year like I did last year, this year, I’m not going to be here for another contract,” he said.
“I knew if I had 10 weeks of it would be good for a couple of weeks at training, but then I'd have one little roll or land on it not right and I’d be back to where I was.
“I went to Mexico had a good time, refreshed the mind a bit then came home and got the surgery done last September.”
Buy your Saints merchandise HERE
Last weekend Roberton played his 69th AFL game and was St Kilda’s eighth most experienced player against the Bombers.
This time last year he was headed towards the wilderness. Now, reinvigorated by his new role on the wing, Roberton is a key pillar in Alan Richardson’s best team. And with just four players on the injury list at the moment, it literally is just about St Kilda's best 22 this week.
“Tom Hickey (24) and me have spoken about how young we are,” he said.
“Richo has pulled me back a couple of times and told me to keep building on my leadership. That’s what I’m trying to work on as well.”
And if there is one thing he knows for sure, it is that he will never get too comfortable in St Kilda’s team and allow for a repeat of the last two seasons.
“The main thing from a personal point of view is to try and keep my spot on the team, trying to stay hungry,” he said.
“I want to get to the stage of being one of the first few guys picked in the team and never wondering about your spot if you have a down game. I want to be a player who plays every week.”
Love the Saints? Player Sponsorship is a great way to increase your connection to the club and align yourself with your favourite player. Call (03) 8765 4324 or email email@example.com to find out more or click HERE.
First blood for us! Roberton with his 9th career goal. #HowIWantToBe— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) April 17, 2015