It was a night to remember for the Saints on Saturday at the Gabba with their three point win over the Bulldogs bringing to an end their decade long wait for a finals victory. Not surprisingly, it was a satisfied Brett Ratten who fronted the media after his team had booked their passage to the second week of the finals.
“I thought for three quarters we played really well,” Ratten enthused in response to being asked his feelings at the result. “I thought in the last quarter we went into our shell a little bit and our ball use from defensive half really allowed the Bulldogs to set up re-entries. But I thought our effort and the way that we set the game up was pretty good football.”
Ratten felt it would provide a valuable lesson for his team.
“We just lost our dare you could say or our boldness but it was the way we kicked the ball too. We actually fuelled it by kicking a long exit kick and we’d kick it more into the corridor than to the boundary. It was like ‘we are actually helping the Bulldogs here’,” he explained. “It will be a lesson for us on how we go about it and that’s probably finals footy. It’s about taking opportunities. That’s what the game is. All the finals so far, all the teams have had an opportunity to win the game but it is taking it when it counts that’s the critical part.”
Asked what it meant for the club to end their wait for a finals victory, Ratten’s thoughts turned to the Saints fans.
“I think it’s great for our supporters and this season really has been around our supporters,” Ratten explained. “They’ve been so loyal, they’ve stuck by us through everything and especially this year. For them to be at home, we can see that there will be a smile on their face.”
“They should be proud of the boys but the boys know how lucky we are as a group to still play and play in finals. We’ve been given this opportunity and they want to make the supporters proud. I think we had in the rooms, and back at our hub, a banner ‘together we rise’ with all our members etched in it. It’s pretty significant. All the players look for their family members and friends who’ve become members and hopefully this has given everybody a bit of joy tonight.”
Despite their third victory in four games, Ratten wasn’t prepared to declare his team was playing their best footy of the season. He did however feel that they had been re-energised after a late wobble saw them lose four games out of six and put their finals position in jeopardy.
“I feel like we’ve got our second wind a bit because we did plateau there a little bit, and I think we’re back running on top of the ground,” he said. “Having Dan [Hannebery] back really helps our midfield and Sinclair has been a really good player for us, with his fast feet and ability to run at the game as well. Who knows, we might get Battle back next week as well which should be a real plus for us as well.”
Jarryn Geary, the Saints last survivor from their last finals appearance in 2011, came in for some special praise from the coach after a performance that saw him voted the afl.com.au man of the match.
“We can put him anywhere and he’s so disciplined, he’s just a gem,” Ratten enthused about his skipper. “He goes about his work. No-fuss. ‘I’ll do it, whatever you need’ and he just applies himself. For the skipper, [having not played in one] pretty much since 2011, to play in a final. It’s been a long time for him and he’s going to get the back end of his career, the latter end of his career to taste this. And he’s had a baby up here, a week ago, unbelievable what him and Em have done up here. You see him wandering around the hub with little Frederick and then handing him over and going to training. No-fuss and he does anything asked of him for the footy club.
Ratten explained the reasoning, and importance, of Geary’s defensive forward job on Caleb Daniel.
“I think Daniel had about eight in the first and only a couple in the second and Geary got a shot on goal and set one up to Timmy. We thought it was an important match up, he’s been in great form Caleb, All-Australian, sets them up. They are one of the best rebounding teams in the competition on scores that way so we knew it was critical. Could we stop one of their ball users down there and he’s the most efficient and I thought Gears did a pretty good job. Probably tried to fly for the ball a bit too much early, I think he got a sniff of what the forwards could do and get away with and he tried to become a full time forward I think. It was critical, Daniel sort of moved up to the wing and just played as an extra around the ball. He got a bit of it. Scored a goal late.”
He also praised the efforts of ‘youngest backline in the competition’.
“That’s been a real plus for us. When you think of that backline of [Hunter] Clark at 21, [Ben] Paton 21, [Nick] Coffield’s still 20, [Ben] Long’s 22, they’re babies and they’ve really stood up and [Dougal] Howard’s only 24 and [Callum] Wilkie’s 24. So we’ve probably go the youngest backline in the competition and they’ve done a great job this year and for them to experience finals and to win a final, that could be worth 20-25 games to them the experience they get out of that. So really pleased for them and they all played their part and they all contributed. They’re really gelling together.”
Max King was electrifying in the first half with two goals before finishing the day with four contested marks and four score involvements.
“It’s really exciting isn’t it? To watch him fly at the ball and do what he can do,” Ratten enthused post match. “He’s a baby, he’s a young man and he’s done a great job for us. Everyone thinks that he has to mark the footy but he’s ability to win ground balls is pretty good and he just brings Butler, Kent, Lonie, Hind when he’s played, into the game and that’s really been significant for our team.
King’s performance prompted Dermott Brereton, during Fox Footy’s half-time analysis, to suggest he’d be a $1-million player in two years time.
“I think Lethers [Simon Lethlean] said he’d sign him up soon, not on a million,” Ratten joked after being told of Brereton’s comments. “We look at him as a career player at St Kilda, he’s taken big steps with his footy and he’s progressing really well but Derm probably put under a bit of pressure there.
King wasn’t the only Saint the Bulldogs found difficult to subdue in the air, with the team combing for 21 contested marks. It was an outcome that came as a pleasant surprise for the coach.
“We’ve been spasmodic in that space, we’ve had games that we’ve been really good and others where we’ve barely touched the footy in the air at times. It was great to see King really start well and fly at the ball but then [Rowan] Marshall and [Paddy] Ryder and Tim Membrey they did a great job in front of the ball. Then behind the ball we had Coffield and Howard and Wilkie marking the ball as well. So it was a real plus for us.”
It wasn’t all good news though. Paddy Ryder was one of the Saints best against the Bulldogs but was left distressed post-match after suffering an injury late in the fourth quarter. Ratten wasn’t confident that he would feature again in the finals.
“We’re not sure,” he said. “We think it might be a hamstring. He’ll get a scan, it’s kind of high, so we’ll just wait and see there. If it is, he won’t play next week and then we have to keep winning to get him to play.”
Ratten praised Ryder’s influence and form since joining the club in the off-season and conceded he’s absence would be keenly felt.
“He’s performances this year have shown everybody that he is getting back to his best,” Ratten said. “I asked him the other day whether he was 23 or 32 and he said 22. He said I’m even younger than that. He seems like he’s got a real spring in his step and its a real shame if its a hamstring and he’ll miss. He’s played some really good football and been a great addition to our footy club.”
Another former Bomber is in doubt for the Semi-Final against the Tigers, with Ratten admitting he was unsure if Jake Carlisle would play with his wife due to give birth imminently in NSW.
“We are going to catch up with Jake early in the week. His wife Mel is on the border there and they’ll keep contacting us and letting us know but we’ll probably have more discussions on Monday or something there and a decision will be made to keep playing or go home. Whatever he decides, you don’t want to miss the birth of your kids and that’s fair enough, we’ll support him either way.”
Remarkably, despite leading by seven points, the Saints laid just 10 tackles in the first half of the game. While admitting it had been a concern at the long break, Ratten suggested there were a number of factors that had contributed to the low number.
“It was more in our front half. Not so much between the arcs and our defensive end. It was really in our front half. We really couldn’t get the drop of the ball, the ball bounced a bit there and it was a little unusual for us and we spoke about it at half time. ‘How could we fix this area up?’ I think in the first five-six minutes of the third quarter we were really good in that space but then we didn’t really get the ball inside 50 in the last so we couldn’t comment on that. It was surprisingly low for our boys who normally tackle pretty well.”
He couldn’t have been more succinct when asked if he had any concerns over Ben Long’s bump on Jack Macrae.
“No,” he replied sternly.
The Coach believed the win over the Bulldogs, and how it was achieved would hold his team in good stead for their Semi-Final date with the defending Premiers.
“We’ll sit back and look at our game, we played Richmond a long time ago and they’ve been in really good form,” he said. “They’ve been a great team for three years so we’ve got our work cut out but tonight shows a bit of belief and we absorbed the pressure. It’s not easy and you can go into your shell and can just fall over but we got through and we got the result. So I think this will give our group a bit of confidence.”
He kept his cards close to his chest when asked if they would take a similar game plan into the match against Richmond.
“I think it’s horses for courses,” he explained. “They’re a different outfit to the Bulldogs and they play a different style but I think our brand, we don’t want to go into our shells but there’s a bit of common sense too. We were talking in the coaches box about the game sense about playing too quick or too slow, sometimes you’ve just got to find that happy medium. At times we went way too fast and at times, especially in the last quarter, we went way too slow. So finding the balance will be critical.”
Ratten expects the Tigers to be improved on their efforts against the Lions.
“The Tiges will probably have [Tom] Lynch back next week and that will be a different looking forward line for them and I think Dimma [Richmond Coach Damien Hardwick] spoke about their connection going inside, I think they only had five marks inside fifty and they usually have a lot more than that up around 10 or 12. That will be our challenge. Some teams play different against different teams and styles and how they match up we’ll probably just focus on how we will go about it.
While it was resolved later on Saturday night that the match would be played at Metricon Stadium, Ratten refused to be drawn on speculation on where the Semi-Final should be played.
“We’ll just leave that to the AFL. If it’s Metricon it’s Metricon, if it’s the Gabba it’s the Gabba. That’s not our role, we’ll just play where we are told,” he said.
With a number of their recent off-season acquisitions among the best for the Saints against the Bulldogs, Ratten was asked if he expected other clubs to go down the same path this off-season.
“I think it’s horses for courses but we went down a needs basis. We had a look and there were some voids in our team and our list and we thought maybe we could get four of them, maybe not the five or so. But James Gallagher and Simon Lethlean with Gubby [Graham Allen] and Roughy [Jarrod Roughead] behind the scenes have worked really hard to attract players and bring them to our football club and hopefully this justifies the decision that the player made but I think club’s will take different approaches. Some will go to the draft and some will go really hard at the trade period.”