Closing the book on a decorated 243-game career, complete with All-Australian and best-and-fairest honours, would leave most players more than content with their achievements.

But when Paddy Ryder was told his services at Port Adelaide wouldn’t be required in Season 2020, he felt like he still had a lot more to give.

There isn’t typically a strong market for 32-year-old ruckmen, however. A homecoming to Essendon was admittedly on the cards, but most other sides were satisfied with their ruck stocks.

Like Port Adelaide, they were backing in the spring chickens.

The Saints certainly seemed to be in that boat. Their premier ruckman was Rowan Marshall, a 33-game, fresh-faced talent that had incredibly locked down the No. 1 ruck role off the back of an astonishing 2019 campaign.

‘Prospect’ was all the rage after exploding from relative obscurity to unchallenged fan-favourite, going on to finish second in the club’s best-and-fairest count.

Rowan Marshall was everything and more in 2019. Photo: Corey Scicluna.

So when whispers started to circulate about Ryder potentially being en route to RSEA Park, it was the ‘square peg in a round hole’ situation: an indisputably talented and credentialed player, but not the right A-grade talent St Kilda was so desperately after.

After all, the future was with Marshall.

But there was a need to give the young ruckman some much-needed support and guidance, so pen went to paper and Ryder was brought over as part of the Saints’ mammoth trade haul along with Bradley Hill, Dan Butler, Zak Jones, Dougal Howard and Ryan Abbott.

Fast-forward to mid-September, and the trimmed-down veteran – who shed several kilos in the pre-season to wind back the clock and play at the lightest he'd been since his days at the Bombers – and his impact on the side has been profound.

It’s been a while since I’ve played in such a young side – it’s a different feeling – but I love the challenge.

- Paddy Ryder

Exquisite tap-work has been a glittering aspect of every outing he’s played in this season (12), as has been his presence in front of goal and his synergy with Marshall.

A brilliant performance against the Power in Round 8, where he and Marshall combined for 40 hit-outs, 25 disposals and four goals to knock the ladder-leaders down, marked the first in a series of defining performances.

02:06 Mins
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Ryder and Rowan walk tall

Ruck duo Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall put on a show at Adelaide Oval combining for four goals between them and a marvellous display of ruck craft.

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Ryder sits fourth in the competition for his hit-out win rate (54.5%) behind Braydon Preuss, Nic Naitanui and Max Gawn, and second for hit-outs to advantage (34.6%) for ruckmen who have played more than one game this season.

And while he’s ticked over the 250-game milestone in a thrilling four-point win over Gold Coast in Round 10, the biggest achievement is he proved that he still had a lot more left in the tank.

His on-field output has been first-rate, but the intangibles – particularly his leadership and influence on the younger brigade – have been equally important.

He’s emanated class through the middle, allowed the likes of Jack Steele, Zak Jones and more recently Hunter Clark to thrive and given Marshall a vital leg-up in his development.

Ruck craft of the highest order. Photo: Corey Scicluna.

When Ryder joined St Kilda during the 2019 Trade Period, he became just the third player over 30 years of age on the entire list along with Jarryn Geary and Nathan Brown.

Now, he’s playing in a team which last week had five Saints under 22 years old and nine with under 50 games to their name.

It’s been a different feeling for the father of four being a core part of such a young side, but one he’s enjoyed more and more as they benefit from his on-field and off-field impact.

He’s become a strong voice, a beacon of consistency, a role model for the Indigenous Saints on the list and a major driver in St Kilda’s gradual rise up the ladder.

I love that I can pass on some of my experience to the younger guys and have an influence on them, but it comes back just as strong. They’re so hungry to keep growing and building as a group and I’ve loved being a part of it.

- Paddy Ryder

There’s now a finals berth in sight. Friday night against Greater Western Sydney shapes as arguably the red, white and black’s most critical game of the past decade.

When the ball is bounced at the Gabba, he’ll be taking that first hit-out.

He'll battle from siren-to-siren with Marshall and the fledgling contingent to break the dam wall and help deliver St Kilda’s first finals appearance since 2011 in a year that’s been as tumultuous as it’s been enduring.

But no matter what happens, there’s still another chapter to be written before Ryder closes the book.

01:43 Mins
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Paddy's 250!

An extensive reel of highlights and plenty more to come, congratulations Paddy Ryder on 250 games.

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