Injury-ravaged St Kilda kicked off Ross Lyon’s second stint as coach with an upset victory over his old side, Fremantle, at Marvel Stadium on Sunday night.
The Saints had 14 players unavailable for selection to start the season, but defied the odds to chase down the Dockers with a superb final-quarter surge that earned them, and Lyon 2.0, a 15-point triumph.
First-gamer Anthony Caminiti celebrates as St Kilda storm to a win over Fremantle at Marvel Stadium.Credit:AFL Photos
Fremantle held a seven-point buffer at three-quarter-time – after the scores were tied at the main break – only for two Mason Wood goals either side of Jade Gresham’s close-range snap to help St Kilda snatch control, and they never looked back.
The Saints kicked the only four goals of the final term despite the wasteful Dockers having 21 inside 50s in the quarter.
St Kilda had a wealth of contributors, led by Ryan Byrnes’ career-best performance, which featured 27 disposals, 13 contested possessions, five inside 50s and 580 metres gained.
Relentless ball-winners Jack Steele and Brad Crouch also shone, while Jack Sinclair, Bradley Hill, Jade Gresham, Wood and defenders Callum Wilkie and Josh Battle were prominent.
Lyon had an obvious stamp on the victory, with the Saints’ defensive structure across the ground making it difficult for the Dockers to move the Sherrin for much of the day, while their own frenetic run-and-gun style paid dividends.
“It’s always nice to get the four points but [this was] reward for effort. We’ve had a big summer of hard work and change,” Lyon said.
Ross Lyon back in charge at St Kilda.Credit:Getty Images
“Fundamentally, a new coaching panel … [and] we worked really closely with the players. I couldn’t have asked more of the players in attitude.
“We’ve got 14 on the injury list. The biggest concern was probably our front half, with the experience going out, so just to see a group that works really hard and has bought in get rewarded [was pleasing].
“[It’s our club’s] 150th year. [Legendary coach] David Parkin used to talk about, ‘It’s really important to win your first one to get some belief and some confidence’, and we know it gets hard from here – we’re already looking at the Bulldogs.
“But we got together, we sang the song, and we celebrated. We’ll start preparing from tonight as coaches, probably – review the game and move on.”
But not everything went Lyon’s way. His decision to substitute Dan Butler in the third quarter for Ben Paton almost immediately backfired when Jimmy Webster (eardrum/thigh) was involved in a heavy collision that left him hampered for the rest of the game.
Fremantle defenders Brennan Cox and Luke Ryan kept their team in the contest when they were under siege early, with Cox hauling in an extraordinary 20 marks – only four short of Brian Lake’s league record.
Sean Darcy was the best big man on the ground, but ex-Demon Luke Jackson failed to make his mark, as Rowan Marshall battled valiantly against the Dockers’ two-headed ruck monster.
It was an early blow to Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir’s hopes of backing up last year’s finals appearance.
Saints accept reality of undermanned forward line
The Saints’ league-worst injury list, which stretches to an unenviable 14 players, meant there were round-one opportunities galore. The absence of Max King and Tim Membrey left a pair of debutants – top-10 draftee Mattaes Philippou and pre-season recruit Anthony Caminiti – to hold down the fort in attack, along with veteran recruit Zaine Cordy. Neither teenager had an overly productive day, but each showed glimpses that suggested they could play a role once the reinforcements arrive.
St Kilda recruit Zaine Cordy (left) celebrates a goal with new teammate Jade Gresham.Credit:AFL Photos
Philippou kicked a goal in the second quarter, while Caminiti made his presence felt early, with several strong aerial contests and assisted Mason Wood in the final quarter. Cordy, who seemed set for a defensive role when he signed as a free agent, endured a quiet evening, but his last-quarter goal gave St Kilda a 14-point edge with barely nine minutes on the clock. Life will be tough without King and Membrey, but they may have a few solutions until they are back.
“I know how good [Alex] Pearce and Cox and Ryan are, and they moved them and out-marked them, but, in the end, I thought we persisted, and we did our role,” Lyon said. “So, we found something as a club. Ideally, you’ve got King there and Membrey, obviously, but that’s not to be for a little while.”
Lyon unimpressed with ill-discipline
The tide was already turning when St Kilda delivered not one but two own-goals in the second term, following a three-goal-to-one opening. Dockers duo Matt Taberner and James Aish were able to hammer home much-needed goals from the square after the Saints conceded 50-metre penalties in quick succession. The first culprit was defensive stalwart and last year’s club champion runner-up Callum Wilkie, who was disappointed to give up a free kick. Fremantle snatched the lead by four points in the process. A quick glance at the coaches’ box enough to understand how frustrated St Kilda coach Ross Lyon was.
Better days ahead?
Dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe’s new football life as a stay-at-home forward had an inauspicious start on Sunday. Fyfe did not have a touch until beyond the halfway mark of the first quarter and finished the game with only nine disposals and a solitary behind. His long set shot midway through the last quarter fell short, just as it looked like he could rise to the occasion. Midfield minutes will be hard to come by for the veteran in 2023, so he will have to find his niche as a forward. There wasn’t much for any of Fremantle’s taller forwards to celebrate, with Matt Taberner even subbed out in the final term.
ST KILDA 3.3 5.4 6.6 10.7 (67)
FREMANTLE 2.1 5.4 7.7 7.10 (52)
GOALS – St Kilda: Owens, Gresham, Wood 2, Higgins, Bytel, Philippou, Cordy.
Fremantle: Schultz 2, Frederick, Taberner, Aish, Treacy, Switkowski.
BEST – St Kilda: Byrnes, Wood, Steele, Sinclair, Crouch, Wilkie, Gresham.
Fremantle: Cox, Darcy, Ryan, Young, Brayshaw, Serong.
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