Making it onto an AFL list is bloody hard.
Working your way up as a rookie is even harder.
But sometimes, the lessons of perseverance and dedication most rookies know all too well can act as the ideal preparation for the hyper-competitive world that is the AFL.
For some, the countless hours of hard work, grit and determination have paid dividends, with some of St Kilda’s very best starting out at the bottom of the chain.
With the 2020 rookie draft kicking off tonight, here are some of the Saints who started their careers as rookies and have proved their worth after fighting their way up the ranks.
Recruited: Pick No. 3, 2018 (aged 22)
Debut: Round 1, 2019 v Gold Coast
A phone call almost one year ago changed Callum Wilkie’s life forever.
The Adelaide accountant and reigning North Adelaide best-and-fairest seemed destined to play out his football career in the SANFL, before the Saints recognised him as a vital asset.
With Dylan Roberton, Nathan Brown and Jake Carlisle all out of action for Round 1, Wilkie got the call-up.
Making his debut alongside Matty Parker, the mature-age recruit slotted seamlessly into the elite competition, barely faltering for the rest of his prolific season.
Wilkie became the first Saint since Steven Sziller in 1995 to play every game in his debut season, and finished seventh in the 2019 Trevor Barker Award as a result.
Recruited: Pick No. 10, 2016 (aged 21)
Debut: Round 18, 2017 v Sydney
He’s a self-admitted “late bloomer” from a football perspective, but Rowan Marshall’s delayed start almost saw him slip through the cracks completely.
After discussions with several AFL clubs in his draft year, it seemed as if ‘The Prospect’ would be picked up and enjoy his first taste of senior football.
But when his name wasn’t read out at the 2014 National Draft, Marshall was determined not to let his hard work be for nothing.
The Portland product worked even harder to fulfil his dream, spending time at Sebastapol and North Ballarat over the next couple of years before finally being selected by St Kilda.
And what a pick-up it was.
Marshall enjoyed a terrific 2019 campaign in just his third season of senior footy, cementing himself as the Saints’ number one ruckman and finishing runner-up in the 2019 Trevor Barker Award.
Recruited: Pick No. 58, 2006 (aged 18)
Debut: Round 1, 2008 v Sydney
Jarryn Geary often flies under the radar, but he almost went completely unnoticed in his draft year.
The Bendigo Pioneers product took out the club’s best-and-fairest in 2006 but was overlooked in that season’s National Draft.
After 136 players went ahead of him, St Kilda selected Geary as a rookie with pick No. 58.
The gritty defender would go on to battle his way up the ranks for the next decade, forging himself the reputation as one of the toughest Saints going around.
Geary was named St Kilda’s captain in 2017, becoming one of six players in VFL/AFL history to skipper a side after being selected as a rookie.
Recruited: Pick No. 23, 1999 (aged 19)
Debut: Round 1, 2001 v Port Adelaide
275 games and 574 goals make an astonishing career, and it’s even more impressive after coming off the rookie list.
Stephen Milne was snatched out of Essendon’s reserves list at the 2000 Rookie Draft, before bursting onto the scene in 2001 to become one of St Kilda’s most potent goalkickers.
The dynamic small forward established himself as one of the competition’s premier goal-sneaks, earning the admiration of the St Kilda faithful and the ire of the opposition (with great delight).
He picked up two All Australian honours and four leading club goalkicker awards before his retirement in 2013.
Milne held the record for the most games played by a rookie before it was surpassed by West Coast’s Dean Cox in 2014.
Recruited: Pick No. 1, 2014 (aged 19)
Debut: Round 1, 2015 v GWS
Jack Sinclair and schoolmate Jack Billings had careers that ran parallel for almost 20 years.
But there was a slight diversion when it came to the pair getting drafted, with Sinclair overlooked and Billings finding a new home in the red, white and black.
The fleet-footed midfielder vowed to follow his teammate the following season, starring for Oakleigh Chargers and Port Melbourne after earning his keep in the firsts.
Sinclair was snapped up with pick No. 1 at the 2014 rookie draft, re-joining Billings in the next generation of Saints’ midfielders.