Jimmy Webster knew 2021 was going to be tough.
The defender had not played an AFL game since round eight in 2019, had battled through a series of injury setbacks and was tasked with forcing his way back into a team that was returning from its first finals berth in nine years.
Stuck on 93 games, even the laudable 100-match milestone was slowly starting to slip out of reach.
But as he has always done through a gritty 10-year career, the unheralded Saint simply found a way. Webster broke back into St Kilda’s best 22, played a career-high 20 games and even finished ninth in the club’s best and fairest.
Internally, the half-back’s return was viewed upon so highly that he has just been rewarded with a one-year contract extension.
It means he will be a Saint until at least the end of 2023.
“It’s been a frustrating couple of years for me with injuries — niggly ones and soft tissue — which hasn’t been great, but last year was a pretty positive year for me,” Webster told AFL.com.au.
“I felt like I played some pretty good footy and was pretty consistent, but the couple of years before that was pretty frustrating. It was hard to get back into the team. We were going pretty well up in Noosa (St Kilda’s hub in 2020), but I just kept fighting my way and I was lucky enough last season to fight my way back in.”
The 28-year-old joins fellow defender Callum Wilkie and winger Daniel McKenzie in putting pen to paper. Wilkie, a member of the Saints’ leadership group, has committed until the end of 2024, while McKenzie has extended through to 2023.
Young key forward Matthew Allison has also signed on for a further two years, tying him to the club until at least the end of 2024. The promising tall was St Kilda’s first pick at the 2020 draft.
Webster finally reached 100 games in 2021 after overcoming the series of soft-tissue setbacks and head knocks he had been dealt across his decade-long career, and now, he is relishing the prospect of playing his typical team-first role for the next two seasons.
“I know it’s not massive, but for me, all the injuries I’ve had, it’s been a pretty tough 10 years, to play 100 games is something I’m really proud of,” he said.
“I try and give as much as I can. I don’t really think too much, I just go out and play. Sometimes that’s probably a bad thing when I put myself in a spot I shouldn’t be in and cop a big knock, but it’s just how I am. I’m happy to be known for that.
“I’m happy just to play my role, whether that’s lockdown defender or run off and get the footy. It doesn’t faze me too much.”
St Kilda Head of List Management James Gallagher said the contract extensions were due reward for the players’ persistence.
“For Jimmy [Webster] and Dan [McKenzie] in particular, who have had a challenging few seasons, it’s a real credit to their perseverance for getting themselves in the position they’re in now,” Gallagher said.
“Cal [Wilkie] has been exceptional at senior level since being taken as a rookie selection. He’s a respected member of our leadership group and a valuable player in defence, and we’re looking forward to seeing that develop further moving forward.
“While we’re yet to see Matty [Allison] at senior level, we want to provide a platform for him to continue to improve in our environment, and ultimately become an important player for us in the future.”