No matter what club you support or where you were on Grand Final day last year, everyone knows Marlion Pickett’s story.
A fairy-tale debut in a Grand Final (the first player to do so in 67 years), a near best-on-ground performance and a Premiership after one momentous game saw the 28-year-old weave his name into the League’s storied finals tapestry.
The year before, it was third-in-line ruckman Nathan Vardy, who stepped in for the injured Nic Naitanui and steered West Coast towards its fourth Premiership.
Trawl through the history books and there are stories scattered throughout of the hundreds of September successes. Matthew Hogg, Leo Barry, Barry Breen… the list goes on.
Now, there’s another finals arc – this time for St Kilda – in its initial stages. Like many, it stems from heartbreaking circumstance. Paddy Ryder was the unfortunate casualty.
But adversity breeds opportunity, particularly for the Saints’ squad waiting in the wings.
Jake Carlisle’s departure from the hub adds another look-in, while the possible suspension of Ben Long could open the door for a third.
The next pages of St Kilda’s 2020 journey are unwritten, but the pen lays vacant. It’s up to someone to seize it and write the next entry.
“There’s stories all around isn’t there, every year and every finals series,” Aaron Hamill told saints.com.au.
“Paddy was a great story to come to the club and perform in the way that he did, and there’s a story why he’s not playing this week.
“Moments like this with Paddy and Jake heading home and not being here, it’s disappointing for everyone involved, but we move on really quickly and focus on those that can be selected.
“The work that’s been done with the whole squad for the whole year for this reason. We need players to step up, pull on the jumper and perform their role, so while it’s unfortunate they (Paddy and Jake) aren’t here, we feel we’ve got the depth and the connection within the squad that someone can jump up and fulfil those roles.”
It could be any number of Saints who could step into the side for Friday’s semi-final against Richmond and help propel their club one step closer towards the ultimate glory.
Dylan Roberton has played just one senior game this season after his two-year absence due to a heart condition. Shane Savage, who finished in the top-10 in last year’s Trevor Barker Award, has also only played a single senior match in 2020.
The perseverance of Jonathon Marsh to make it back to AFL level, Nicholas Hind's transformation from plumber to Saint or the persistence of the luckless Jimmy Webster.
All have the makings to be brilliant finals stories.
“The mentality with squads is that there’s 22 that represent the club and our members on game day, and then the other guys who aren’t playing, they continue to a significant role in there.”
It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Premiership Tiger Dan Butler several team meetings ago, and now, it’s a message that will be reinforced heading into Friday night.
“Even though there’s only 22 playing out there, we really need our squad to be all ready and fully supportive, because every year there’s a story in the finals where someone comes into the team late and has a big impact," Butler said.
“We spoke about how that could be someone not playing at the moment that could come in, so the boys not playing just need to be ready and who knows what could happen.”
Every Premiership-winning side of the past decade has used a sizeable portion of its list, with all clubs using over 30 players throughout the course of the season.
Three of the last four Premierships have used 39 players.
But this season has been even harder than most to break back into the senior line-up, with training restrictions, a disbanded reserves competition, a relocation to Noosa and countless other obstacles hindering the squad from pushing their best cases for selection.
“But now you’re really tested and your mental resilience is tested.
“It depends how deep we go clearly, but if we can keep healthy and keep fit, it gives the coaching group and Ratts a pretty good 22 to choose from.
“We need to get to work and understand who and what we’re representing when we put on the jumper and what it means for hundreds and thousands of people around Australia.
“And they don’t ask for too much, they just ask of you to have a crack.”