A fingertip on the Sherrin which denied Richmond a potentially victory-stealing goal in the final 30 seconds of last weekend’s game may well just be the perfect metaphor of how Zaine Cordy has carved out his career: take a closer look and you'll see the little things that make all the difference.

Cordy could arguably be the most unsung player on the Saints’ list, despite being one of just three to have a premiership medallion to his name. But that’s just the way he likes it.

In his words, if he’s just flying under the radar and not getting talked about, then he’s doing something right. Just like how his diving touch off the boot of Richmond’s Tyler Sonsie would only have been spotted on a super slow-motion replay in the subsequent score review, the impact the versatile recruit has had to begin 2024 is only really appreciated under closer inspection. 

Zaine Cordy chisels a kick out of defence against Richmond at Norwood Oval. Photo: AFL Photos.

Cordy has assumed the key defensive post in the absence of Dougal Howard as he recovers from a significant hamstring strain, building his career upon stepping up to the plate – and in just about any position – whenever opportunity has come knocking.

“Personally, I feel my whole career has been about taking the opportunities when they come,” Cordy told saints.com.au.

I’ve always got through my career just being a competitor. I’m the youngest of three brothers so was always competing against my older brothers so that side of things comes second-nature to me.

- Zaine Cordy

“We do all the hard stuff as defenders, but personally I really enjoy flying under the radar. I don’t really mind if no-one’s talking about me - it means it’s a good thing!”

Cordy’s 18 games as a Saint after 118 – including premiership honours – at the Western Bulldogs are as varied as you could possibly imagine.

His beginning to life in new colours unexpectedly began as a key forward for the opening seven rounds as injury cut down the tall timber in Max King, Tim Membrey and Jack Hayes and forced Cordy into the role of leading man alongside SSP recruit Anthony Caminiti and seven-gamer Mitch Owens.

Cordy spent time as the next man in wait for the next 10 weeks, before suffering a sickening concussion upon return in Round 17 and later seizing his opportunity – this time as a key defender in the absence of Howard – for the final six games, including the elimination final against GWS.

Mastering both the backline and forward line gameplans is certainly no easy feat, but Cordy’s ability to switch between both seamlessly all comes down to him putting in the work. Again, the small things that not many others would see.

Zaine Cordy at RSEA Park for the week's training prior to Round 5 against GWS. Photo: Sam Bunn.

“The more you know of the gameplan the more you can help others, and then in turn by helping others it makes you better at it as well,” Cordy said.

“It’s just about putting in the work, knowing the set-ups because sometimes you’ve got to help your teammates, sometimes you’re in the wrong position and it’s frantic out there.

“I’ve learned that over a few years playing footy, just control the things you can control and the rest will all take care of itself.

“The thing for me is just to make sure I knuckle down on the gameplan and know it all really well, so when the opportunity does arise I can come in and play a role.”

Although the 27-year-old isn’t one to fuss over the stats that eventually go to his name, his pressure rating as a tall defender is ranked as elite from the opening month of St Kilda’s campaign.

Only he and Melbourne’s Tom McDonald average more than 20 pressure points per game in the defensive half as key position players. However there’s no secret as to how the 193cm Saint applies the heat on the opposition.

“I just try and keep it pretty simple,” Cordy said.

“I’ve played most of my career down back, so it’s nice to play there again. I played a little bit of forward last year with a few injuries, but I’m loving my role down back and trying to do that every week.

“I just try and make it as difficult as possible for the opposing forwards. If that’s getting in their grill, that’s what it is. But I don’t really think too much about stats and numbers. I just try and get the job done.”