15/04/2024

Georgia Patrikios (C) and her teammates leave the field after the loss to Narrm. (Photo: AFL)

Faced with one of the best midfield groups in the league, the weaknesses of St Kilda’s own midfield have been exposed.

On paper, it already looks a fair bit different from last season. Georgia Patrikios’ return has been well-documented, while Tilly Lucas-Rodd departed for Hawthorn.

Hannah Stuart has also been added to the mix after making the jump from the VFLW team, and Darcy Guttridge has made the full-time move onto the wing from half-forward.

But after two solid showings across the first two weeks, the match against Narrm showed where they need to take the next step.

The Saints had already lost clearances minus seven the week before to the Hawks, relying on repelling attacks and launching scores off rebound instead.

Their offensive capabilities out of clearance were a clear issue against the Dees. It all starts with the lack of consistency from the players getting ball in hand the most.

Olivia Vesely exploded out of the gates, with eight disposals and two clearances in the first term. But in the second, she added just a tackle and a disposal.

The same was true of Patrikios. She had a massive seven disposals and three clearances in the second quarter, but only one disposal in the third.

“I’d like to see all of our midfielders have four quarters performances,” coach Nick Dal Santo said post-game.

“I thought both of them [Patrikios and Vesely] had moments. They maybe didn’t have the overall impact they did in the first two weeks. Those two girls had moments, but the Dees beat us in that space.”

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The upside of the performance is that the Saints broke even in clearances after half time. But had the highest ball winners in Patrikios and Vesely kept up their output for all four quarters, they could have instead made up the differential.

As the two highest contested possession winners, the onus is on them to compete.

Conversely, the balance within the midfield group puts the pressure on them. Tarni White, Rosie Dillon and Nat Exon are largely defensively minded, and aren’t the type to burst out of the pack and clear a long ball inside 50.

The absence of Tyanna Smith and Patrikios’ continued build towards match fitness after sitting out a season will have the most profound impact on this balance.

Defensively, however, the Saints were largely excellent after quarter time. They would finish the game plus 44 in tackles, putting immense pressure on the Demons out of the middle.

White and Dillon had 19 alone between them, but neither had much of an attacking presence, with just one inside 50 to the former.

With the backline struggling to hold up against a significantly stronger forward line, it combined for the imperfect storm.

“I didn’t think our contest work was great, and then our competing in the back half was poor in the first quarter,” Dal Santo said.

“I thought in the initial contest we were okay. We still lost clearances and contested possessions, which is normally around the initial contest. Not only was it at the initial source, but it was outside of that.”

Darcy Guttridge and Molly McDonald were comprehensively outrun by Lily Mithen and Karen Paxman, who along with the Dees talls, controlled the outside run and spread game.

With less control of the middle, this then left the backline under more pressure. While Bianca Jakobsson did her best to repel attacks, the absence of Jayde van Dyk (ACL injury) means less maturity and less leadership to deal with constant pressure.

The pieces are there, but the Saints will need to work on balance and consistency to win the midfield battle week-to-week.

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