Lyon chasing long-term Saints success after Giant finals loss

Lyon chasing long-term Saints success after Giant finals loss

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St Kilda coach Ross Lyon says he will adopt the sage advice of departing AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan as he continues to build the Saints into a premiership threat.

The Saints’ season ended with a 24-point loss to Greater Western Sydney in an elimination final at the MCG on Saturday. They trailed by seven goals twice at different points of the game, and both time rallied, but the Giants held firm. The Giants will play either Brisbane or Port Adelaide in a semifinal.

Saints skipper Jack Steele had a career-high 38 disposals, and was instrumental in his side finding a spark when shifted into the midfield. Jack Sinclair was also busy, while ruckman Rowan Marshall was robust around the ground. Max King, while booting three goals, was unable to drag his side to victory.

The Saints had 10 men playing their first final, and Lyon says they will have learnt about what is required to deliver in a September contest.

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“It’s been a nice, safe, bubbly environment to be truthful, we have been really level,” Lyon said of the overall season.

“It’s not about one week, you earn the right [to play finals]. I ran into Gillon McLachlan, he has a bit of a passion for the Saints at some level. But, it [his message] was: ‘Ross, don’t try and build it in 12 months, build it over the longer term’.

“I feel that has been the approach, not burning out anyone, and just getting there the right way. I feel we just have to continue to do that. Gillon, who has helped build the AFL into what it is, I think it’s pretty sage advice for a coach at St Kilda like me.”

Lyon, having replaced Brett Ratten last year, returned to Moorabbin this season to deliver a finals berth. That was achieved, the side spending only one week outside the top six all season, but now comes the challenge of continuing to build a side capable of winning a premiership.

“I would have liked to perform better, but it’s a great audit, finals,” Lyon said.

“History tells you there is no guarantee. Sydney snuck in, and Geelong missed. That’s how brutal the competition is – a score review here, a score review there, and Adelaide is in.

“We should get some natural growth out of our dedicated first-and-second-year players, like (Mattaes) Phillipou, (Anthony) Caminiti, (Mitch) Owens, (Marcus) Windhager. (Nasiah) Wanganeen-Milera, Cooper Sharman was a shining light. We just have to build around them for the long term and also get some near-term assistance.”

Tim Membrey was a late withdrawal for personal reasons, the announcement shocking teammates. He was replaced by the inexperienced Caminiti, the Saints having sought special dispensation from the AFL to draft him in from outside the emergency list.

“[The news came via] a call at 8.15am this morning. It’s certainly no excuse (for the loss),” Lyon said.

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“[It] probably challenged those closest to him. We addressed it. He is in a safe place. Our thoughts are with Tim. We will just work through it.”

Giants coach Adam Kingsley said he had had no issues with the Saints’ decision to draw in a player from outside their emergencies.

Giants veteran Stephen Coniglio complained of blurred vision on Saturday morning, having taken a knock to the eye at training on Thursday. He passed a concussion test, but Kingsley said the Giants took a cautious approach with him.

Kingsley said the Giants had improved “significantly” as the season unfolded, delivering a game plan which would handle the finals heat. They have now won at 11 different venues this season, a league record.

“The group, I have tremendous belief in. We are not worried about playing away games,” Kingsley said.

Greater Western Sydney surge into semis

EARLIER: St Kilda’s season has come to an end as late-season bolters Greater Western Sydney surged into the semis with an eye-catching MCG finals victory.

The Giants held off the Saints to win by 24 points in an entertaining elimination final, booking a sudden-death clash against either Brisbane or Port Adelaide.

While an AFL finals campaign is a serious business, GWS coach Adam Kingsley, a former premiership player himself and Richmond assistant during their recent glorious era, understands the need for levity.

“You can hear the guys there in the background having some fun and that’s who we are and that’s what we want to be. I think we’ve been that across the course of the year irrespective of win and loss,” Kingsley said in the countdown to Saturday’s match.

That fun was on show after the final siren at the MCG on Saturday. The Giants were exhausted, but were full all smiles, having posted their 10th win in their past 12 games.

Giant result: Daniel Lloyd after kicking a goal.

Giant result: Daniel Lloyd after kicking a goal.Credit: AFL Photos / Getty Images

Star midfielder Josh Kelly (27 disposals) was arguably the best afield, the Giants without fellow veteran Stephen Coniglio (eye), while rebounding halfbacks Lachie Ash and Lachie Whitfield were superb. Midfielder Tom Green was also elite, the Giants enjoying maximum impact from their top talent.

“We had the belief we could get it right, and we have done that in the second half (of the season),” Green said.

Forward Jake Riccardi (three goals) was also threat all game, on a day star Saints forward Max King and GWS defensive ace Sam Taylor neutralised each other.

Trailing by 25 points at the final break, the Saints needed the first goal when play resumed to have any hope. They got that when Jack Higgins sprung to life. But the Giants responded with the next two majors, Higgins effectively handing back his own goal by conceding a 50m penalty and a goal to Finn Callaghan. The contest was over.

Mitch Owens kicks the ball forward at the MCG.

Mitch Owens kicks the ball forward at the MCG.Credit: Getty Images

The Giants have been the road warriors this season, now adding victory at the home of football to their long list.

For the Saints, it was a learning experience, for 10 players hadn’t played a final. The defeat capped a tough day, with forward Tim Membrey a late withdrawal because of a personal health challenge . Skipper Jack Steele, with a season-high 38 disposals, and Jack Sinclair were busy, keeping their side in the contest when the Giants threatened to storm away in the second term.

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Saints ruckman Rowan Marshall was dominant around the ground, while Mason Wood battled on after a poke to the eye. In his first season back in charge, Ross Lyon lifted the Saints into the finals. But now comes the challenge of determining how much reshaping the list needs to be a serious premiership threat.

The third term delivered momentum swings, the Giants extending a 23-point lead to 37 points when Toby Bedford booted his second goal, the Saints then finding their spark to boot the final three goals of the term, including a snap by Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera on the siren which was reviewed.

Lyon made positional moves to start the term, notably shifting Hill onto Whitfield, and Marcus Windhager onto Kelly. Hill got busy, but Kelly was still imperious.

Sinning Saints suddenly surge

Early on with the Saints trailing by three goals, they needed to rebound early in the second term, but had only themselves to blame for their inability to initially respond. Seb Ross hit the post from a 40m set shot, Dan Butler did not make the distance from a snap just inside the boundary, having won a free kick against Harry Himmelberg, while Mattaes Phillipou and Anthony Caminiti then got in each other’s way in a marking contest that should have seen one of the pair line up from goal from about 20m out. Instead, that spillage led to a Jesse Hogan goal on the rebound, the Giants taking control and jumping to a 42-point lead. Lyon shifted Steele and Sinclair into the midfield, and it worked a treat. Cooper Sharman finally delivered the Saints their first goal of the term, and King made amends for a botched set-shot snap from the pocket with a strong mark over Taylor, converting from 40m. King had his second in the blink of an eye after an off-the-ball free kick against Taylor, the Saints building momentum to eventually cut the deficit to 23 points by half-time.

Ups and downs

Lyon felt fluctuating emotions in the first term. Sharman’s brave mark backing into a pack, leading to the Saints’ opening goal, reinforced the unflinching desperation needed in finals. However, that was later offset by frustration after Hogan marked amid three Saints defenders. Hogan then snapped successfully.

Great appeal

The Giants’ decision to appeal the one-match suspension Toby Bedford was handed for an off-the-ball bump against Carlton paid immediate dividends in the first term when the pressure forward marked and converted from about 40m. Bedford is not a major name, but the former Demon played an important role through the midfield and inside attacking 50.

ST KILDA 2.3 6.6 9.8 11.11 (77)

GWS GIANTS 5.3 10.5 13.9 15.11 (101)

GOALS – St Kilda: King 3, Hill 2, Sharman 2, Wanganeen-Milera, Owens, Marshall, Higgins

GWS Giants: Riccardi 3, Hogan 2, Bedford 2, Kelly 2, Brown 2, Greene, Lloyd, Daniels, Callaghan

BEST – St Kilda: Steele, Marshall, Sinclair, Wood, Wanganeen-Milera. GWS: Ash, Green, Kelly, Whitfield, Ward

UMPIRES – Donlon, Foot, Rosebury, O’Gorman

CROWD – 68,465 at the MCG

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