St Kilda has called on the wisdom of 1966 premiership hero Ross Smith in a bid to reignite the club's push for an elusive second flag.
The Saints' premiership drought — now the longest of any club after Melbourne's 2021 triumph — will enter its 55th year next season, but Smith, who claimed the 1967 Brownlow Medal, has implored players to find the missing pieces of what has proved a challenging flag puzzle.
Addressing players, coaches and staff as final layers of turf were placed on RSEA Park to complete the ground's resurfacing, the two-time club best-and-fairest winner, now aged 79, shared insight into how the club claimed its maiden flag just a year after its hotly debated move from Junction Oval to Moorabbin back in 1965.
"You know how hard it is to win each week," Smith told players.
"You know how hard it is to get to finals — you've just missed out this year — [but] there are some things you can look back [on] and say, 'What can I do to make up for those sorts of things that would mean we can get to finals, and what are some of the things we can do to get us to a premiership?'"
For Smith and the 1960s Saints, improvement was struck through a commitment to extra training, which legendary coach Allan Jeans had urged his part-time players to consider.
"Jeans said to me, 'You've got to get a bit more agile', so I went to Frank Sedgman— the tennis player who used to run a gym. Next time, he said, 'Smithy, I think you need to get a bit quicker', so I went to Caulfield Racecourse every Sunday to do sprint training," Smith recalled.
The multi-million-dollar upgrade, set for completion by mid-February, includes an overhaul of the ground’s turf, drainage and surrounding footpaths.
In 1965, players felt a deep connection to Moorabbin after assisting in its construction.
"All 35 of us would walk up in a line, up along the earth, and we had to pick up the pebbles," Smith reflected. "You can imagine 35 guys, there was a bit of banter on how many pebbles you had.
"That was how they got us involved and got us invested in the development of the ground, and getting excited about playing here in Moorabbin. We all became part and parcel of that change from St Kilda at Junction Oval to here at Moorabbin."
St Kilda defeated Collingwood in front of nearly 51,000 spectators in the first match held at the ground, before falling to Essendon in the 1965 Grand Final. A year later, the Saints drew on their Moorabbin momentum to win the club's first flag — against Collingwood — by a single point.
St Kilda's only premiership team continues to share a bond that "endures everything".
"What does a premiership do for you? In nearly 150 years that people like you (players) and me have been playing for this football club, there's only 20 of us who have got a premiership medallion," Smith said.
"Last Monday, we visited 'Cowboy' (Kevin) Neale, who's got dementia. About 10 of us went to visit him in Wodonga. When he came out, he said, 'Hello, Smithy'. I thought, 'Wow, he's recognised me'.
"The next day, he'd forgotten it had happened, but our respect for Cowboy, we wanted to go up and visit him just to talk to him. For him, it's a fleeting time, [but] for us, we'll remember that getting together and we'll do it again."
Rallying the troops for Cowboy ♥️— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) December 13, 2021
Several members of our 1966 premiership side made a special trip to Wodonga to surprise their much-loved teammate, Kevin 'Cowboy' Neale.
He's currently being cared for in a nursing home after being diagnosed with dementia in 2018. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/u6gSGY6jd0
Smith also paid tribute to Ian Cooper, who was adjudged by many as best afield in the 1966 triumph and almost certainly would have claimed the Norm Smith Medal, which has only been awarded since 1979.
Cooper passed away on Tuesday morning.
"We've now lost five people, together with coach Allan Jeans," Smith said.
"[Cooper] was unbelievably positive. I spoke to him a couple of years ago and at that stage, he was a carer for his wife Jill, who's got dementia. He was having problems with his prostate and had also just been diagnosed with Parkinson's [disease]. Once it's diagnosed, you've got about seven years before you know you're going … he still had the courage to be outgoing, still laughing, still joking."
Smith concluded his speech by channelling the words of Len Smith — who was the older brother of Norm — and reminding players of the opportunity to add to the 1966 premiers' legacy.
"Do not judge success by what you have achieved, but by what you should achieve with the ability that you've got," he said, restating Len Smith's immortal advice.
"We, as the premiership players, would like to share that privilege with you. We'd like you to join us in showing us your medal and being proud of this football club."