A content Brett Ratten spoke to the media after the Saints secured their first finals appearance in nine years with a 52-point victory over GWS at the Gabba. Tested early, his team ran away with the game in the second half and it was this ability to put a quality team to the sword that was particularly pleasing for the Coach.
“I think we’ve played some alright footy in the last month but it hasn’t been four quarters and tonight I thought it was pretty close to that,” he told reporters. “They are a very talented team and to run away with the victory was really pleasing and I think it gives us some confidence moving forward. I think everybody was crossing their fingers and the build-up was tense but that’s what trying to play finals footy is. That’s the space your in and you’ve got to look forward to the challenge and that’s what I was really pleased for the players was they embraced that it was going to be one of these games. Every contest is going to be critical and I thought we fought it out great,” Ratten said.
Dan Hannebery made a welcome return from a hamstring injury that had kept him sidelined since Round Five. Having spent the last two weeks in quarantine on the Gold Coast and training alongside Geelong’s Gary Ablett and Richmond’ Shane Edwards, his workload was carefully managed. While this curtailed his minutes on the ground, Ratten was pleased with the impact he had on the contest.
“We wanted to play him on the bench for the start of each quarter and manage his time and for him to get through. To contribute like he did was a big bonus for us,” Ratten said. “Dan doesn’t have to touch the ball all that much to influence others. His voice and leadership out there is critical. When you look at Howard, Hill, Jones who wasn’t out there but Hannebery, Ryder, they’ve all played finals footy, and that’s why we brought them to the club as well. There experience out there was really important. That’s why they’re at our footy club and they’ve helped us get to a point where we have made it,” he said.
The prognosis wasn’t so positive for Jade Gresham who, along with Hannebery, had recently rejoined the playing group in Queensland. “No, he won’t play,” was Ratten’s short response to questions on whether his ‘number four’ was any chance to play in week one of the finals.
Asked about his post-match message to his team, Ratten reflected on what they had achieved and the challenge that lay ahead of them. “It’s interesting you set the bar to say at the start of the year that you want to play finals and that’s part of the journey, but its not the destination,”he said. “The destination is how far can you go and that’s in our hands again, whoever we play.”
“So I was talking about opportunity and that’s what you want to do. You want to make it to give yourself that chance. We’ve done that. Our list is pretty healthy, hopefully Jones is back for the first final which’d be great, and we’ve got no injuries today. So that’s really important as well.”
Jack Lonie was forced to leave the field in the first quarter and to surrender a shot at goal, that was converted by Brad Hill, but Ratten believed his small forward would be fit and available for the Elimination Final. “It’s just a jarred knee. So we strapped it up and he was fine. Got through,” he explained after Lonie had returned to action and played out the match. “With the extra week I think he’ll play for sure,” he said.
It was a particularly raucous rendition of ‘Oh When the Saints Go Marching In’ post-match, with each member of the club in Queensland joining together to belt it out. The significance of involving the entire group important to Ratten after all each of them had surrendered to ensure the 2020 campaign could continue.
“I spoke to Danny Sexton when we got to the ground and said ‘when we get this job done let’s get everybody here’. There are people that have been at our football club for a long time and haven’t been involved in finals but I think its more about the environment that they’ve been thrust into,” Ratten said. “We’ve left our homes, some people have left their families there, it’s been a challenging year. The thing for everybody is that we’ve done it together and as much as the players have performed on field, there are so many people off field at our footy club that have dug in and got the job done which so pleasing,” he said.
He was also keen to point out the importance of the club’s supporters. “Then the last part to it is our fans. They’ve been starved of finals and they’ve done it extremely hard in Melbourne, not just St Kilda fans but all fans the hardship that has been put down there, and for our supporters to sit back tonight and have a smile on their face and to say ‘we got there to the finals’. This is the first part of it but really pleasing for them,” he said.
The Saints also welcomed back the most highly decorated interchange steward in the AFL, with the return of Jarryd Roughead to the sidelines. An important part of his coaching staff, Ratten praised the impact the four-time premiership winning Hawk and explained is impact on the team. “He’s experience, and he’s cool, calm approach, is really important but he has the respect of the players and everybody here. To just have him back, that was the mix we had at the start of the year and then it changed because of covid and certain things. But to have him back this week, to even talk about those finals experiences and what you have to do, and to have extra knowledge around is important,” Ratten said.
Depending on how results pan out over the weekend, St Kilda may well end the season in sixth place and be granted the opportunity to choose between The Gabba, Metricon Stadium and the Adelaide Oval as the venue to host their ‘home’ final. “If we’re given the choice, we’ll probably play at the Gabba I reckon,” Ratten said when asked for his preference in that situation. “That’s if we’re given the choice.”
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|AFL 2020: Magic Moments – Round 18 v GWS.|
|AFL 2020: Tough As – Round 18 v GWS.|
Despite the Gabba likely being their home venue of choice in the finals, the Saints have no intention of moving closer to the venue from their hub on the Sunshine Coast. “No, we’ll stay at Noosa. We’ve got a fantastic spot there in Noosa with everyone,” Ratten said. “We’ve got more travel probably, to get down here it takes us two hours and to get to Metricon it takes us three but I think the routine for the players has been really important and what they do. So it would be great for us to stay there, but as what we’ve said we’ll do whatever it takes to keep the games going and we get the opportunity now to play finals which is what we are after. So hopefully that is the case.”
After having been omitted following the Saints Round 13 loss to the Lions, Jake Carlisle made his return to the senior team against the Giants. Solid among a back six that was rarely challenged, Ratten praised his attitude and his efforts during his absence from the team. “
It’s been challenging and we spoke about that after the game. The season has thrown different challenges for different people,” Ratten said. “Jack Sinclair wasn’t playing for the first five, six or seven weeks of the year. Josh Battle had to wait as well. Jake Carlisle has done the same for the last few weeks. So there’s been challenges for everybody but just to keep a good attitude and stay positive and keep working on their game to get that chance again. We spoke about that we’d need everybody to make finals and we have. We’ve used a few players and their attitude and what they’ve done away from training and everything has been first class,” he said.
Jack Steele continued his now inevitable journey to his first Trevor Barker Award and All Australian selection with a best on ground performance against the Giants. He would finish the night with 18 touches and two goals and had game high numbers in score involvements, tackles, clearances, and contested possession. It was no surprise then that Ratten was effusive in his praise of the 24-year-old post match.
“He has grown as a player, on and off the field, he’s leadership has gone to another level. Assisting younger players during the week more than ever,” Ratten enthused. “I think it’s just a joy to watch him go about his craft and do what he has to do in the midfield. He is strong, he wins a lot of footy for us, and he’s had an outstanding season,” he said but he was equally pleased that his midfield group didn’t leave all the work to Steele. “We can’t just be relying on Jack Steele to have a great game,” he said. “We have to spread the load and make sure that everybody is contributing but I thought tonight was a really good team performance across the board.”