Rowan Marshall is more often than not beaming from ear to ear on any given day, but the reality of finals football has the usual grin even wider.
Instead of packing his bags come this time of year, Marshall is strapping on the work boots as a blockbuster elimination final against GWS beckons next Saturday at the MCG; a game the All-Australian candidate will most certainly have a huge say on.
It will be just Marshall’s third final following on from the club’s berth during the COVID-affected 2020 campaign, but the Saints’ first September appearance at the MCG since the 2010 Grand Final Replay.
“It’s awesome, it’s what you dream of as a kid,” Marshall told reporters at St Kilda’s finals media callout.
“The last time we got to experience finals it was up in Noosa at our hub, so we’re really looking forward to coming out and bringing a really strong brand of football in front of our home fans.
“It feels a lot different. That hub year seems a bit bizarre at times; playing after four or five day breaks, playing in front of little crowds and things like that, but it’s going to be really exciting to play in front of lots of people at the MCG.
It’s been a big week for the fan-favourite ruckman, who was selected in the All-Australian 44-man squad alongside teammates Jack Sinclair and Callum Wilkie.
Although Marshall didn’t end up with a maiden All-Australian blazer on Wednesday evening, it shouldn’t downplay the terrific season he’s had, especially in the last month which helped steer the Saints into the top-eight.
It’s been an even bigger accomplishment given Marshall has chaired the role on his own for majority of the season, going solo for the first time since 2019 after sharing the ruck reins with Paddy Ryder for the past three years.
“It’s a big honour and then obviously for Wilks and Sincs to be named is awesome for them,” Marshall said.
“My own form has probably come off the back of a strong pre-season. I’ve been able to get through, haven’t missed any training so that’s been a real positive.
“Obviously I miss Paddy to bits, I still keep in close contact with him and chat every couple of weeks, but with him leaving there was obviously a big responsibility on me to step up and transition into that ruck role. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Finals won’t be entirely new territory for Marshall come next weekend and certainly isn’t for senior coach Ross Lyon and assistant coaches Lenny Hayes, Robert Harvey and Corey Enright, but it will be for Jade Gresham, who will get his first slice of September action after eight seasons at the highest level.
Back surgery cut Gresham’s season in half during 2020, seeing him dip out on St Kilda's snapping of a nine-year finals absence.
St Kilda’s Round 24 line-up featured 11 players who hadn’t played in a final previously, including the experience Jimmy Webster, whose 150th match will coincide with the long-awaited occasion.
“It’s been something I’ve been looking forward to for a while now, and to get to do that next week is exciting,” Gresham said.
“You want to play finals as soon as you start playing AFL. I’m just super excited and just can’t wait to get out there with the lads.
“At the start of the year everyone wrote us off, but Ross has come in and been awesome to us. All year we’ve just backed ourselves in and we’re really happy to get out there for our first final in a few years.”
Gresham’s free agency status has been a talking point for much of the year, however the midfielder’s mind is firmly on the finals road ahead.
“To be honest I haven’t given it too much thought; my main focus is playing finals next week,” Gresham said.
“I’ll leave that all up to my manager and we’ll sort it out when the time is right.”