Billy Longer has had to wait a long time for another opportunity. By the time he faces Geelong at Etihad Stadium, 617 days will have lapsed since his last appearance in red, white and black. Fitness, form and the emergence of Tom Hickey have all been factors. But now Longer has the opportunity to reclaim the No. 1 ruck mantle at St Kilda.
Hickey, who played 20 games in a breakout season in 2016, won’t play at any level this weekend after having his workload managed. But as Alan Richardson said in a press conference on Friday morning, Longer had done enough across the last couple of months to demand another chance this weekend.
Ahead of Longer’s first AFL game since Round 20, 2015, a year where he played 18 senior games, Richardson told saints.com.au that Longer’s 40-hitout performance against seasoned Essendon ruckmen, Tom Bellchambers and Shaun McKernan, last Saturday sealed the deal.
“The whole pre-season was equal opportunity for Billy and for Tom. Both boys had had strong pre-season up until the JLT series,” Richardson told saints.com.au ahead of Sunday’s clash against Geelong.
“‘Hick’ had a really positive performance in the last one against Sydney and had been performing strongly. Billy had to wait at VFL level but continued to perform strongly.
“I really liked his performance on the weekend versus the Bombers and against quality opposition. He’s continued to improve, albeit at VFL level. We expect him to come in and be really strong in terms of his work at stoppage, both in the air and at the ground.”
Richardson explained how a range of factors combined to work against the former Brisbane Lions No. 8 pick in 2016. He started the year on the back foot in the rehab group and while Hickey went from strength to strength in the first half of the year, tightening his grip around the ruck spot, Longer sustained a serious concussion that set him back.
“He had a slow start to the year due to surgery and because Hickey was so strong he just never got the opportunity. He just had a year where he had too many interruptions, he wasn’t able to get any continuity with his footy,” Richardson said.
“He came back in good shape at the start of this summer and gave himself every opportunity to perform strongly because of the work he’d done away from the footy club. We’re pleased that he gets the opportunity, we’re looking forward to seeing how he performs.”
Now, after a long time in the wilderness, Longer gets another chance to lead the show in the middle of the ground.