If there’s one thing Mattaes Phillipou refuses to do, it’s to renege on a promise he has made to himself. So when the high half-forward with a propensity of the spectacular says he believes he can do “a hell of a lot better” in 2024 after his captivating debut season, you best believe he’ll go to any and all lengths to see that fulfilled.

The high-flying and unabashedly driven Saint was a fan-favourite in his maiden year in club colours, holding his spot for every game since his debut and becoming the first St Kilda player since Callum Wilkie in 2019 (and before that, Steven Sziller in 1995) to feature in all matches in his inaugural season.

Although losing some steam as the club’s milestone campaign reached its tail-end, everyone could see the reason why Phillipou was snapped up by the Saints with pick No. 10 of the 2023 AFL Draft; there were the makings of something special which didn’t need any prodding to unleash.

And while a 24-game debut season as an 18-year-old with Rising Star honours and a healthy cohort of admirers across the league to boot would leave most young players thrilled, Phillipou is far from content.

“It’s interesting. A lot of people said ‘you played every game, that’s awesome!’ and I totally understand that and it was an absolute privilege, but I felt like I left a lot out there,” Phillipou told saints.com.au.

“Reflecting on my first year, I thought I could have done a lot better. I’ll look to improve and hopefully achieve some of those heights in the years following on.

I know it’s not going to happen straight away, but I’m never going to lower the bar for myself because I know I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it.

- Mattaes Phillipou

“The support I’ve got from the club, Ross, my coaches and everyone here, it’s been sensational. I definitely feel like I can do a hell of a lot better than what I did in my first year and hopefully I can start to tap into that this year."

Phillipou’s mission for 2024 is crystal clear: continue to build as an elite athlete, master the sport’s fundamentals and enhance his game sense to become a pivotal cog in St Kilda’s emerging line-up for seasons to come. 

Out on the track and with Round 1 fast approaching, Phillipou is certainly looking the goods.

Perfectly threaded kicks through the middle hit their targets with precision, his fluid movement and focus on athleticism has him sidestepping opponents with ease, and after several agonisingly close encounters this pre-season, there’s the feeling he’s one perfectly weighted kick away from reeling in a great grab.

Phillipou’s strides towards becoming a high-impact player of the future - and extended pre-season training as a midfielder - seem to have come not just as a product of a full year in the system, but following tweaks he’s made in his off-field environment to allow himself to better zero in on football.

It isn’t new that establishing a good off-field results in a good on-field return, and vice versa, but now, the Saints’ No. 25 feels all the pieces are starting to slowly move into place heading into his second season.

“I’m feeling very confident. I feel like a lot has come together at a good time for me,” Phillipou said.

“Last year to be honest was quite difficult in a lot of ways, not so much football-wise, but just trying to figure out everything. I was learning a lot about myself while trying to be the best I can be on the field.

“I feel like I found a really good balance though and I’m going to continue to refine that I’m sure as the years go on, but I’m very excited and feel I’m in a good place right now.”

Mattaes Phillipou has the future at his feet. Photo: AFL Photos.

On-field, Phillipou is poised to spread his wings. Off-field, it’s closing in on time to leave the nest.

After spending majority of last season bunking with fellow first-years Anthony CaminitiJames Van Es and Isaac Keeler before a move pre-Christmas to the well-documented (and successful) Mason Wood residence, Phillipou has now made the leap to go solo in his own apartment.

That place is now his oasis in the bayside: an environment of his own to create and subsequently thrive in, all with becoming the best version of himself possible - in this very early stage of his life and career - in mind.


“I think having the freedom to live the way I want to live and being myself like I would at home will allow me to switch off a lot easier and help me come (into the club) refreshed and have more energy to spend when it matters,” Phillipou said.

“I’m still working out what works best for me. It’s only been a year that I’ve lived out of home and obviously you can’t learn and know what’s going to be best for you immediately. 

“I feel I’ll be able to focus a lot of my energy on football instead of what’s going on outside of it, and from that standpoint I’m very excited. In order to be who you want to be around others, you need to have time to yourself where you can reflect and re-energise mentally more so than anything.

I’ve found I’m definitely more introverted at heart, so I think having that alone time will allow me to be that charismatic guy that people might see online or game day.

- Mattaes Phillipou

As a self-admitted “perfectionist”, Phillipou knows just how easy it is to fall into the trap of striving to be flawless 100 per cent of of the time, especially now his attention is looking to be diverted extensively towards football in light of his move. 

That said, he also has front of mind just how important easing off the accelerator is every now and then is.

For the footy-loving, top-10 pick however, his definition of 'switching off' is a little different from the norm. A mental refresh for Phillipou actually means doing more in and around the game, expending his energy into propelling his own growth and meet his own lofty expectations. 

It’s a unique paradox the young Saint finds himself in. It will take time to strike the right balance, however, coming to the understanding of what works best for him is all just part and parcel of the changes that are steadily unfolding in the background.

Mattaes Phillipou played every game in his debut season in 2023, setting the wheels of an electrifying career in motion. Photo: AFL Photos.

“As a perfectionist, as they’d all know as well, it’s very easy to fall into trying to be perfect all the time. I think that’s my thing, even if I’m the slightest bit around it I really find it hard to switch off,” Phillipou said.

“For me, pumping the brakes actually means I don’t have ‘off days’ because I need to exert energy. There’s some people who that’s the opposite; it might mean having a day off or not talking to anyone or not going out, things of that nature and totally shutting out.

"I feel I’m a little different in that sense where switching off might actually mean doing that bit more and that comes down to understanding that’s who I am.”

Not a day goes by where there isn’t a Sherrin in this budding star’s possession. A footy in his hands every day is the Phillipou way.

Just as regular as that, the additional sessions to improve his craft, amplify his game sense or enhance is athleticism is the frequent contact he has with his family, especially with his father, Sam, who played three games for Footscray in 1995 before carving out his name in the SANFL as centre-half forward for Woodville West Torrens.

In some ways, football-related as their discussions may be, those invaluable calls over the phone are what Phillipou views as him “pumping the brakes” to mentally refresh, tackle the next challenge or conquer the next hurdle in his fledgling AFL journey.

“He really understands where I’m trying to go. He’s seen it for my whole life and he probably knows me just as well, if not better, than I know myself really. It’s crucial to have that and understanding what that is for me is extremely beneficial,” Phillipou said.

“He’s been that support system that is always there, and it’s not just him but the rest of my family. My brother, my dad’s brother too… we’re very close and with all the important topics I try to go back to them and reflect.

“Dad created such an elite environment that allowed me to thrive. Without that, I wouldn’t be at the Saints, so now it’s about how can I create that environment by myself to almost replicate what I’d get at home. 

“I wouldn’t have had as good of a first year without him, and I wouldn’t be here without him, I know that for certain. 

“I don’t think I’d be the person I am without dad, let alone the footballer.”

Mattaes Phillipou with his family ahead of his debut game against Fremantle in Round 1, 2023. Photo: AFL Photos.