New Docker Ross leaves Saints in turmoilPosted: September 16, 2011
LIFE at St Kilda will certainly go on following Ross Lyon’s shock defection to Fremantle, but whether the club will succeed is far from concrete.
Lyon is regarded as one of the top coaches in the league, alongside Hawthorn premiership coach Alastair Clarkson and Collingwood premiership coach Mick Malthouse.
How then does St Kilda now recover from losing the club’s second-best coach in its history, after 1966 premiership coach Allan Jeans, at a time where a big re-build is most certainly on the cards?
Lyon, 44, has been the senior coach for the past five seasons at St Kilda, where in 121 games he took the Saints to four finals series and three Grand Finals in two years – including the 2010 drawn Grand Final.
At 63 per cent, Lyon holds the highest winning percentage of any current AFL coach who has coached for more than one year.
His tenure at St Kilda followed assistant coaching roles at three clubs – the Sydney Swans (2004-2006), Carlton (2000-2003) and Richmond (1996-1999).
As a player, Lyon accumulated 127 games with Fitzroy for over 10 years before a knee injury ended his career in 1995 after a further two games for the Brisbane Bears.
St Kilda will struggle to remain at the top end and re-build at the same time, if their history is any guide.
Coming from Sydney before taking on the St Kilda job, Lyon adopted the view to top up his list with recycled players from other clubs to extend the Saints’ window of opportunity to grab their first flag since 1966, and it almost worked.
Given the Swans’ success with recycled players, Lyon tried it at the Saints with successes coming from the likes of Farren Ray (Western Bulldogs), Sean Dempster and Adam Schneider (Sydney Swans), while the attempts of Adam Pattison (Richmond) and Andrew Lovett (Essendon) proved just how bad things can go when it doesn’t work.
The Saints have done very well to be at the top end of challenging for a flag since their rise in 2004, when Grant Thomas was at the helm.
Eight years is a long time to be up and they just fell marginally short of football’s top prize.
But you can’t mark time in football.
Lenny Hayes turns 32 next year, Nick Riewoldt is 29 tomorrow, Sam Fisher and Justin Koschitzke are already 29 and Nick Dal Santo will be 28 by next year as well.
Brendon Goddard is entering the peak of his football powers and should be named captain for 2012, while ruckman Ben McEvoy could yet emerge as a star.
But can Lyon’s replacement extract the best from Raph Clarke, Sean Dempster, Ryan Gamble, Clint Jones, Dean Polo
and Zac Dawson?
Under Lyon their game plan was ultra defensive and an unattractive brand of football to watch at times, but it delivered results.
In last weekend’s elimination final loss to Sydney, Lyon freed up his players to play an offensive, attacking style of play not many had seen before this year. It didn’t work.
The skill level was below par and the forward targets where the small men in Milne and Schneider. Alarm bells started to ring as the Saints were opened up, the Swans took advantage in what no one knew to be Ross Lyon’s last match in charge of the home side.
St Kilda may have one last crack at the flag in 2012 with Hayes back, Riewoldt back with an injury free year and full pre-season under his belt, as well as a returning James Gwilt to the back six, when he returns mid-year from a knee reconstruction.
Alternatively they can accept the premiership run for now is over and start to build for the future, looking to trade one or two stars for a couple high draft picks.
One plus is the appointment of new head of football, Chris Pelchen, the former Hawthorn list manager who is credited for building the 2008 premiership side at Waverley Park.
Recruiting has been one area that has let the Saints down miserably, given that there are very few youngsters on that list with genuine talent to get excited about, with a major overhaul expected.
Michael Gardiner has already retired, while Steven Baker, Andrew McQualter and Robert Eddy were told they were no longer required and delisted as a result.
The new St Kilda coach will inherit an ageing list with the urgent need of a re-build, and together with Pelchen, will need to get their recruiting and list management decisions right.
St Kilda supporters might tear down and accuse their former coach of being a traitor and disrespecting the football club by the nature of his exit, but most of all, they will bemoan the massive loss his sudden departure now represents.
The club’s decision of Lyon’s replacement will now be no.1 priority and they need to move quickly, having now become the fourth club with a coaching vacancy to fill.