The ‘second-year blues’ have derailed many young players following breakout debut seasons.
And Hunter Clark’s mysterious form lapse at the start 2019 showed all the symptoms.
A huge pre-season and a blistering intra-club outing had the No. 11 on course for extended stints in the midfield come Round 1.
But that perfect start never came.
His untimely dip in form and a loss in confidence resulted in the 19-year-old being overlooked for the opening two games of the year.
Three relatively uneventful senior appearances – sandwiched in between another omission – followed, before another stint in the VFL ensued.
And while the St Kilda faithful always knew he’d bounce back, no one could have predicted the impact that the long-haired, headbanded boy from Mount Martha would have on the second half of the season.
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Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield in the red, white and black.
Averaging 20 disposals, five marks and four intercepts per game, Clark has entrenched himself as a core member of the senior line-up in an incredibly short space of time.
His surge up the ranks began against the Lions in Round 13, where the Padua College product was one of the few shining lights in the 56-point defeat.
The purple patch fittingly continued for Maddie’s Match, before a sterling 25-disposal, nine-tackle performance against Geelong marked his best outing as a Saint.
His then career-best effort against the Cats would be knocked off the following week, with his 26 touches, three clearances and two goals crucial in St Kilda’s emphatic victory over the Bulldogs.
His newfound consistency has been seen not only from week-to-week, but within games.
Clark’s best footy would come later in matches in 2018 – largely when the sting had been taken out – but now he’s shown to have a massive impact from the outset.
Tearing off the half-back flank with his long locks in tow and utilising his midfield nous has given himself and his teammates belief.
And while the stats clearly illustrate his rapid rise, it’s Clark's instinctual flair in big moments that has Saints fans most excited.
His class in the final quarter against Melbourne was just a glimpse into the future, with his blend of composure and strength integral in St Kilda’s triumph.
The moment the game turned for us.— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) July 30, 2019
All class from Hunter Clark. pic.twitter.com/EGxnfgknDt
Clark’s 2019 has him emerge as one of the competition’s most promising youngsters; a natural leader, a prodigious talent and a cornerstone of the Saints’ future.
This season has put his name on the map, and ahead of 2020, one thing is clear.
The competition is on notice for the boy from Mount Martha.