27/05/2024

Ross Lyon has returned to coach St.Kilda in 2023 (Graphic: Will Cuckson)

When you think about the 2009/2010 Saints, many iconic names immediately spring to mind.

Riewoldt, Hayes, Goddard, Milne, Dal Santo, Montagna, Koschitzke.

The team that came oh so close in back to back years may forever be known as the ‘almost’ team, the one that should have ended the Saints drought.

Of course it wasn’t to be, but it was one of the most memorable teams in history for the sheer dominance they could show over the opposition.

All of those star players had to be lead by a star coach, one that’s demeanour could handle the sheer talent at his disposal and keep everyone on track for one common goal.

That man, was Ross Lyon.

A name as memorable as the players he coached, he was adored by Saints fans and despised by the opposition, exactly how a coach should be.

When he departed the Saints in 2012, myself and the rest of the fanbase felt betrayed. How could our boss leave us now?

Fast forward 10 years and in an astonishing turn of events, Ross Lyon is the man once again.

Now the question remains on everyone’s mind, is he still the real deal?

Does Lyon have what it takes to instill fear in the opposition like he once did? Can he bring St Kilda out of fading mediocrity? Can he bring an elusive second flag to Moorabbin, something he failed to do before?

Is Ross the Boss still the man for the job?

Ross Lyon is returning to the St.Kilda Football Club (Photo: AFL)

If at first you don’t succeed

David Armitage was 21 years old when the Saints went 19-0 to start the 2009 season, and mostly watched on as his idols played for all the glory.

When speaking to me last year, he did not mince his words about exactly the type of coach Ross Lyon was in the early days, before the Saints really hit their straps.

“I can’t remember where we finished in 2007 but I don’t think we played finals,” Armitage recalled.

“From there, he basically then just said ‘alright’. He got rid of who he wanted to, brought in who he thought could win games of footy.

“Ross sort of had this philosophy where he was ruthless. Our trademark was all about playing your role and being ruthless basically and if you didn’t, you found yourself out of the team pretty quick.

“There was a game I remember vividly when we had lost a couple in a row and Dal (Nick Dal Santo) and Milney (Stephen Milne) didn’t play their role on the day and he ended up dropping them back to the VFL.

“They played against Coburg out there and I remember playing that game and there was heaps of people there and that was sort of a sign where it was the real deal, if you don’t play your role and do what’s necessary of the team he’ll drop you.”

For context, when Dal Santo and Milne were dropped in 2008, Dal Santo had played 132 games in a row, was an All-Australian and had finished third in the Brownlow Medal three years prior. Milne on the other hand had kicked 298 goals in his career, including seven in a game just six matches prior, and had achieved two 50+ goal seasons.

Ross Lyon’s perceived “ruthlessness” knew no bounds, and set in stone what was to be one of the most dominant periods a football club could ever have, without ultimately winning a premiership.

2009 saw the Saints win 19 games in a row before eventually being defeated by the Bombers, with Nick Riewoldt missing a shot after the siren.

They would then lose the following week, before not dropping another game until the last day in September, where a controversial Tom Hawkins goal and a Matthew Scarlett toe-poke sent the Saints home without the ultimate glory and the drought sitting at 43 years.

It was pure jubilation the week prior however, as the Saints beat the Bulldogs in the preliminary final and sent us through to a grand final. I was sitting on level two, behind the goals, the opposite end to where Rooey kicked the goal off the deck and sent us through. I burst into tears.

A week later, I was crying for a different reason.

And then a year later, the same once more.

It was a difficult period to be a Saints fan.

I knew they were talented and I knew we were going to talk about this team forever.

While some outsiders may think that 2010 was the year they got the closest and should have won, 2009 was the true chance. It was the one that should have been heading to Moorabbin… or Seaford.

2010 was heartbreaking. An unbelievable resurgence in the grand final foiled by an unlucky bounce, before a demolition job the following week.

It was pretty hard to see at the time, but that was Lyon’s last gasp.

Years of preparing this team had gone to waste and deep down he knew, they couldn’t back it up again.

And as ruthless as ever, after the 2011 season, Lyon departed to Fremantle, where he went to another grand final and lost for the third time.

When Lyon left, it might have felt like a shock. He gave his heart and soul at the club, and left with little hesitation. But that’s the most Ross Lyon exit that could have ever happened.

Ruthless. He wasn’t trying to be nice to the fans. He doesn’t care if he makes enemies. He just wants success for himself and his team, whatever team that may be.

With that being said…

Ross Lyon is the right coach for St.Kilda in 2023.

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The return

When the news broke of Ratten’s exit, my immediate reaction was wanting Adem Yze. To be completely honest, I still would have taken Yze as our newest coach.

A fresh face, someone that is outside the football club and could reinvigorate some stars that had lost their shine in recent years.

The method the Saints have taken is different, and quite unusual for a club to do. Taking back a former coach is rarely seen as a positive, but in the case of Lyon, it might just be.

CEO Andrew Bassat was said to be “sick of mediocrity” and has his eyes set on bringing a premiership to Moorabbin by any means necessary.

Ross Lyon is the definition of any means necessary.

Bringing Lyon back to the Saints shows just how serious Bassat and the board are on success. They are willing to do whatever it takes, including bringing back a former coach that left us high and dry, because they know his attitude can change the football club.

Reactions on social media are varied on Lyon’s coaching philosophy and squad management, with much being said of his underuse of young players in his time at both St Kilda and Fremantle and his significant defensive mindset.

What is not doubted however is the fact that Lyon wins football games. He has a 57.89 per cent winning record in home and away games, with 65.91 per cent at the Saints.

His supposed misuse of young players has been partially inflated over time. While it is true that players may have had their development stunted by Lyon not playing them, the sides that he cultivated were exactly the teams that he wanted, and it had the success to back it up.

You couldn’t blame Lyon for not playing the likes of Armitage, Tom Lynch and Jack Steven when the Saints squad was relatively fit and firing through those prime years.

It was plain and simple for ruthless Ross. You were either good enough, or you weren’t.

That might seem harsh and counter-intuitive, but Lyon has always had a win-now attitude, something that the Saints are hell bent on doing.

To borrow from an overseas example, this is the Saints’ ‘Ruthless Aggression’ Era. Lyon will not make friends in this period and will make plenty of enemies, but he can win football games.

And isn’t that what we all want?

Ruthless Aggression

While I loved Brett Ratten and believe he shouldn’t have been sacked the way he did, what I believe he lacked in was a cut-throat nature.

Ratten was sacked by the Saints just three months after extending his contract (Photo: AFL)

There have been periods in the last few years where some of our supposed stars should have and needed to be omitted. He finally pulled the trigger at points this year, dropping the likes of Higgins and Butler after some poor performances, but it was too little, too late.

The players must understand that they are playing AFL football and are constantly fighting for a spot, not just assume they’ll be there.

Lyon can make sure of that, as shown by the examples made of Dal Santo and Milne.

Lyon also knew how to get the best out of players when they were in the team. We all know how good Riewoldt, Hayes, Dal Santo and Milne were, but it was the role players that Lyon cherished and developed as his own.

Andrew McQualter, Jason Gram, Max Hudghton, Steven Baker, Sam Gilbert, Farren Ray, Sean Dempster and Jason Blake. These players were some of the most pivotal members of the Saints squad through Lyon’s years and are in St Kilda folklore for their heroics that almost took us to the promised land.

These players rarely get outside recognition, but Lyon knew what they were worth and did everything he could with them at his disposal.

This is something Lyon can bring to the Saints in 2023, players that will play their role and do it perfectly.

Some players already fit that mould and will reach new heights under Lyon. The likes of Callum Wilkie perfectly fit Lyon’s style and will make his game even greater, after a standout season in 2022.

I’ve had a lot of time to sit and think about what’s best for the Saints and unbelievably, I think we might have made the right decision.

While Yze could have been a leading choice, I think Lyon is the sensible option.

While Ross Lyon and sensible are near polar opposites, it’s the truth.

Lyon wants to win games and us as fans are sick of seeing us not do that. It’s the perfect appointment for Saints fans to will us to go back to games and actually vocally support our team, with our attendance numbers dwindling in recent years, not including the COVID years.

Gone have been the days of decking out Marvel Stadium (or Docklands for the purists) with red, white and black colours and willing home our superstars.

Lyon knows what that feels like and the atmosphere that Saints fans can bring. One can only hope he will bring that back as he takes us up the ladder once again.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again Ross.

For the sake of our football club, try and try again.

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