Why not us?
What you see is what you get with Brett Ratten.
Passionate, competitive, a driver of connection and most importantly, a genuinely nice bloke who wears his heart on his sleeve.
It was on show from day one of his senior coaching tenure at RSEA Park, with a memorable fist-pump celebration to St Kilda players and staff announcing his official appointment in early September of last year.
Oh what a feeling!— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) September 6, 2019
The moment Brett Ratten was announced as our next Senior Coach ?? pic.twitter.com/CT0BpXawwt
Right from the get-go, the second-chance coach – who had served as caretaker for the final six matches of 2019 – declared that laying the foundations for a successful future would be priority one.
He sensed the playing group had what it took to turn things around quickly, and he wanted to be the one to lead the charge in unifying the club.
“Why not us?”, “Why can’t we make our run?”, “What is stopping us from challenging the best?”.
They weren’t just questions, they were challenges. The hunger was starting to creep back in.
Danny Frawley’s tragic passing less than a week later rocked the club to its core, but it would ultimately play a major role in galvanising the red, white and black’s emerging character.
Then came the new recruits: Hill, Butler, Jones, Ryder and Howard. All credited the new man in charge as being a major reason for joining the Saints.
Belief began to seep into the playing group as Ratten sowed the seeds of the type of culture needed to secure the club’s elusive second Premiership.
There was direction, there was purpose and drive within club walls. And for the first time in a while, there was a hesitant tingle among the faithful of something that hadn’t been felt in several years:
An infectious energy
One thing you can say about Ratten is that you know when he is in the room.
A larger-than-life presence, a thunderous laugh and a commanding way with words captivated all within the club, and steadily, there was a growing buzz in the air at RSEA Park.
The club was a hive of activity as pre-season continued to ramp up, and optimism reigned supreme as footy returned to Moorabbin, first for the AFLW and then for the Marsh Community Series.
That infectious energy started with Ratten. You couldn’t help but love him.
Like his trusted skipper Jarryn Geary, Ratten knew when to have a laugh, muck around and kick back, but he also knew when to get to work.
He could rally the troops with an impassioned address, and simultaneously deliver the stern review an under-performing player needed to hear.
It was certainly no secret that cultivating a strong connection within the entire club was a key mantra of Ratten’s heading into the new year.
‘Play to your strengths’ was another key pillar in his coaching philosophy which was warmly embraced by the new-look playing group.
Ben Long embraced it by relocating to his customary half-back position, dazzling all-comers with glittering intercept plays and dash from the defensive half.
Then came the rest of the young core in Nick Coffield, Ben Paton and Hunter Clark, who all pinned down places in the new-look line-up courtesy of Ratten’s backing.
Dan Butler thrived, Dougal Howard locked down the key defensive post and Jack Steele was handed the keys to the kingdom by the senior coach.
And we all know how good that year was from the No. 9.
The new senior coach was universally admired by players and staff, and everyone was invested in the man affectionately known as Ratts.
Opportunity, not adversity
But for all the optimism that had built up heading into Round 1, the balloon was burst as COVID-19 pulled the rug out from underneath the entire league.
Suddenly, there were no crowds. A season shutdown was confirmed less than an hour after the Round 1 loss to the Roos and the future of Season 2020 was in serious doubt.
Despite all the hard work from September through to March, it looked like there may only be one game – a loss – to show for it.
RSEA Park was emptied, players disbanded, and the once-vibrant halls of Moorabbin fell deathly silent. Footy fell into the unknown.
But all through the swirling uncertainty, Ratten’s hunger remained. He was like a caged animal, itching to get back to work, reunite the club and continue its march onward.
A painful 84 days later, that appetite was at last appeased. The Saints were back on their home deck – still with no fans in the stands to cheer them on – and ran out emphatic winners over the Bulldogs.
The reigning Premiers fell shortly after, before a prime-time clash against Carlton saw another four points in the bag.
Exciting, bold, captivating footy; finally, the Saints had their own identity.
Within 48 hours of beating the Blues, the Saints were forced to pack up their bags, leave their families behind and relocate to Noosa for the foreseeable future. It would end up being their home for the remainder of the year.
While others saw adversity, Ratten saw opportunity.
Again, why not us? Why can’t we make our run? What is stopping us from challenging the best?
The Fremantle game proved success wasn’t merely given, and Ratten called for a response. The tide was ultimately turned.
A paltry away record was remedied as back-to-back wins against Adelaide and Port Adelaide – the eventual minor Premiers – on their home deck saw the ‘pretenders’ moniker dropped.
The Swans fell next, then the Suns. Gradually, the fabled ‘f-word’ began to creep into view.
Then came Round 18. The lid was finally off as the Saints overcame the Giants to march into its first finals campaign in nine years.
In his first season at the helm, Ratten had galvanised the club from top to bottom.
He’d taken it from 14th to sixth on the ladder, into the club’s first finals series in nine years. Finally, he’d led his side to victory in that elimination final.
Under Ratten, the players now believe they have what it takes. The faithful believe they have what it takes.
And in a world of uncertainty, one thing is clear: Ratten’s Saints are just getting started.