Seb Ross is optimistic St Kilda’s “seamless” transition into its second season under Ross Lyon has the red, white and black in good stead heading into its pair of practice matches in just a few weeks’ time.
Match simulation sessions have ramped up as a result, with today again working the Saints to the bone before a four-day break in order to freshen up and tackle the next chunk of pre-season at full steam.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape. Having one year under Ross last year implementing a heap of stuff on a whole new gameplan, this year has been pretty seamless for the boys to come back in with just a few things we needed to tinker,” Ross said at this afternoon’s press conference.
“When you get to finals you sort of get found out on your flaws, and that certainly happened to us. We had a really young team last year, so those guys are only going to benefit from that experience.
Post-break, St Kilda will phase into regular in-season training in anticipation of its upcoming practice games against Essendon and North Melbourne, both of which will be played at RSEA Park on Friday 23 February and Sunday 3 March respectively.
Today’s match simulation at RSEA Park marked the most physically demanding and arduous of the pre-season to-date, with Ross alternating between the “loose A and B team set-up” to both work in tandem and opposite midfielders Jack Steele, Marcus Windhager and Hunter Clark.
Clark was assisted from the field following an accidental blow to the face at centre bounce, but has otherwise pieced together an impressive body of work which has drawn praise from his teammates.
Mitch Owens, Tim Membrey and Max King all looked threatening up forward in various stages, Riley Bonner found plenty of the football coming off half-back as a switching option while the fresh injection of youth from Darcy Wilson and Hugo Garcia in particular showed glimpses on-ball.
“There’s plenty (of young talent) in there and they’re all eager to learn,” Ross said.
“Wilson, Garcia, Angus Hastie, they’re guys who are already super fit. They’re a hell of a lot fitter than I was when I came in. Wilson is playing a little bit more forward and sometimes in the midfield, but Hugo has joined us in the midfield. He’s really lively kid, got fast really fast feet and he’s got an appetite to learn.
“I think having Lenny Hayes and Damian Carroll as development coaches, those kids are in great hands, but they’re annoying us older fellas trying to learn everything they can!”
Headlined by Wilson, the Saints’ crop of youngsters have both the endurance and the pace to enhance Lyon’s vision of a fast-moving and fit St Kilda.
The first-round draftee took out the club’s three-kilometre time trial last November to highlight his developing engine, followed close behind by Marcus Windhager and Mattaes Phillipou who are priming towards big seasons of their own respectively.
“I think where the game is heading, teams are becoming really big running sides. The teams that made it to the pointy end of the finals in Collingwood, Brisbane and GWS, they’ve all got big engines and can run all day,” Ross said.
“We’ve got a strong team of runners so we really think we can replicate those better sides, so that’s something we’ll be looking to do.
“The running capabilities [our young players are] coming in with, they’ve already got that part down and they can really focus on the gameplan and learn what AFL footy is all about.”
The Saints still have some soldiers on the mend from minor setbacks outside of Ben Paton's pectoral tendon rupture which will sideline him for a minimum of three months, but it’s a stark contrast to the injury woes of last season which had Lyon turning to multiple avenues to fill the key posts.
Dan Butler is still on the mend following ankle surgery, while Paddy Dow may be “pushing it” for a debut Saints appearance following a knee knock.
“I’ve played against Paddy when he was at Carlton. He’s someone who’s really explosive with his first few steps around stoppage, which is what we need,” Ross said.
“I think that’s the biggest difference to where we were from last year. We’re really available this time of year which is where we want to be.
“Footy injuries can happen and we don’t know what’s around the corner, but it’s just great for guys who didn’t get a full pre-season in last year to get one in this year.
“The sooner Paddy can get back out on the track, he’ll make us a better team.”