A 31-point defeat to Richmond at Metricon Stadium brought an end to the Saints 2020 premiership campaign. Beaten but not not disgraced, bad kicking and a few missing stars proved costly against the defending premiers. As disappointed as he was with the result, after nine years in the finals wilderness, Coach Brett Ratten was understandably proud of the season as a whole when he fronted the press post-match.
An opening minute goal to Tom Lynch was far from the opening to the game that Ratten would have hoped for. The Saints worked their way back into the first term before conceding three goals in a four-minute burst during time-on saw that saw the margin out to 23-points. With his team left to play catch-up for the remainder of the match as a result, Ratten would lament this fact post-match.
“That was probably the disappointing part, that we didn’t really put them under scoreboard pressure,” he said. “I think we put them under pressure. I think we had periods where we kept the ball in our half, I think we won time in forward half for the whole game anyway. But that was the part [putting Richmond under scoreboard pressure], we thought if we could get close enough could we get some momentum and really stretch them and I think that’s the bit that we didn’t do.”
With his likely opponent finishing the night with seven scoring shots, the absence of Jake Carlisle was understandably a big story post match. Yet, as difficult as the big defender was to replace, Ratten felt another absent star had a bigger impact on the game.
“It hurt us a bit [but] probably not as much as Ryder,” he answered questions as to how much the team was hurt by Carlisle’s unavailability. “Centre bounce 15-5, they scored 4.2 from centre bounces and I think they sit 16th for scores from stoppages and they’ve kicked 8.4 to 1.3 for the game. That’s the game in itself. They got metres off our stoppage wins early in the game and we addressed that but their ability to score, especially from centre bounce, that put us under enormous pressure.”
Despite Ryder’s best on ground effort in the Elimination Final against the Bulldogs, Ratten did not expect the big man to be as missed as he was. Not that he was laying the blame at the feet his replacement.
“No, I think Rowan Marshall toiled hard in there and it’s not about Ro’s tapwork,” Ratten said. “He hit the ball well, I think first possession was 10 each. So our ability to be clean there, Richmond put you under enormous pressure ,and we probably fed the ball backwards a bit under duress. They then surged and went out the front on us and that didn’t just happen from stoppage that was also some of our general play as well,” he said.
“We tried to address that at half time but they got some real field position momentum from those plays and scored. He is a great player Paddy, and has been for a long time, and we did miss him and the potency of Ro forward too. We didn’t get a look at that so we tried something in the last, being virtually being four goals down, to put him up there and use Marsh as the ruckman and it didn’t work.”
On a night where a number of things went wrong for his team, Ratten was quick to point out that in highlighting the effect of Ryder’s absence it shouldn’t be inferred that he was downplaying that of Carlisle’s.
“I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful to Jake,” he explained. “I just thought if we could have won the centre bounces a bit more we would have actually got the ball our way and not exposed our backs. Jake’s had a good record on Lynch and done a good job a few times so not having him there [meant] there was a little bit of that three men fly and we’d get beaten and they’d score a goal out the back. There was a bit of that in the game which was disappointing.”
While many pundits have speculated whether Carlisle had played his last game for the club, Ratten expects the key defender to be offered a new contract.
“I think he will [be offered a new contract],” he said. “I think they’re talking now but that’s between Gags and his manager. With the scheduling and everything, the contracts and all that has just been up to James Gallagher and he’s working through that but I dare say that there’d be something put towards Jake.”
The ARC once again showed itself to be as wise an AFL investment as Meatloaf was in 2011, with its failure to overturn a goal umpire’s decision in the second quarter. With footage of the incident showing clear daylight between Nick Vlaustin’s fist and the ball, even the Tiger defender would have been surprised when the insufficient evidence verdict was revealed on the scoreboard. Did Ratten think it was a goal??
“Does it matter?” he replied tersely.
Pressed further he was philosophical.
“Well, it’s not going to change it,” he said. “Can they replay it and we go back out there and finish off the game? They’re not doing that. So we could get caught up in all that, and this and that, but they’re not changing the decision. So? We couldn’t kick them from the goal square let alone get a bit of assistance when we thought we got one. So we’ve got ourselves to blame.”
He was even less forthcoming when asked about Tom Lynch’s kneeing of Dougal Howard.
“I just saw the 50 and looked at the stats and I didn’t see anything.” Ratten said making it clear he didn’t want to spend any more time on the subject.
While he was true to form when it came to answering questions about subjects about things outside of his control, Ratten was incredibly forthcoming about how the game was won and lost and what the future held for his team. With his team kicking 6.13 he admitted that the match would serve as a powerful reminder of the price paid when you don’t take your chances.
“We’ve spoken about the finals series and it’s the team that can be composed and finish their work,” he said. Y”ou might have less inside 50s, you might have less marks inside 50 but making those plays up is pretty critical. We didn’t complete our plays tonight when we could have had the chance but to their credit their pressure was pretty good, the Tiges.”
“They played their style of footy and they hurt us at times but they probably scored from a method that they haven’t been scoring all year. So that will be interesting if they are going to be relying on that in the finals, it’s probably good for them because now they have added the stoppage scoring to their turnover scoring. So that could make them more potent but it was a bit of a different game to what we probably thought it would be played out.”
As surprising as the Tigers outpointing the Saints at their strength at scoring from clearances was that the opposite was true when it came to scores from turnovers. Ratten put this down to circumstance but lamented that turnovers could have been an even more useful scoring source had his team taken better advantage of their opportunities.
“You’ve got to score somehow so you score through turnover or stoppages but the score sources really flipped on the head for two teams,” he said. “We’ve been pretty good at scoring from stoppages and maybe not as much from turnover but we had our chances. I think at 3/4 Time we had 20 attacking mid turnovers and scored 2.4. We just couldn’t capitalise, and be accurate, and get the most of that.”
A season like no other, Ratten reflected on what his team had overcome in reaching this stage of the season.
“When you reflect on the season and speak to the people and the staff about what they’ve done this year, by the time we leave in three days, we’ll be close to 100 days here at the hub. For people to put their lives on hold and not see family, I had pretty much all my family come up bar my son who’s a plumber and I haven’t seen him for 100 days. A lot of people have sacrificed a lot this year but it is just a credit to the AFL to keep the game rolling and produce what they have because it has been a year that you’ll maybe never see again but the sacrifice that the people in the game have done, hats off to them.”
“I spoke to our staff about that, Lethers [Saints General Manager of Football Simon Lethlean] has really led that in the hub and created the opportunity for us to be close together and connect and we’ve taken big steps as a footy club. Not just on the field but off the field. Really my message at the end of the game was, we are going to lose good people here that don’t deserve to lose their job, which is bloody unfortunate and puts it all into perspective a bit, but we need to work harder as a footy club. We thought we had worked pretty hard this year but we’re going to have to roll our sleeves up and go again and that’s what the good teams do. They get themselves in a position to keep being vulnerable in finals and exposing themselves and we’ve got to keep doing that as a club.”
As difficult as the 100 days in the hub were, Ratten was prepared to consider the idea that it might have had a galvanising impact on his young group.
“Maybe. There is some plusses of the hub, there’s no doubt about it. I think we’ve learnt some big lessons as an industry about what we are capable of doing. I don’t know about keeping producing these four day turnarounds they are pretty solid if you had to keep backing up with them but the travel side of it. We go to Adelaide virtually back to back, we just fly there for the game. Go to a hotel for two hours and then head to the game and play. Then just jump back on the plane and go again.”
“So I think it has changed what we can do as an organisation, or an industry, and be a little bit more flexible I think. Which has been good for everyone I think and the appreciation and gratitude when you speak to people at home and what they are going through in Melbourne, and across Australia, what they are going through in the covid period. They aren’t just losing jobs but they are losing their house, their businesses and all that so I think it has been good for the players and people to say ‘that we are pretty lucky’.”
With his first season in charge at an end, thoughts inevitably turn to the next. After leaping from 14th to top six, Ratten was excited about the prospect of trying to maintain or improve on the hard-fought for gains of the 2020 season.
“That’s the challenge isn’t it? It’s about producing that and maybe even more as a team but we’ll probably get a tougher draw and we might get some injuries along the way too so there will be different challenges for our footy club next year.”
“Exactly right [external expectations on the club will increase] but you can’t sit there and sit on the fence, you’ve got to put yourself out there and do you want to be good or do you want to be great? That’s the part, that’s for players, clubs, you’ve got to put yourself out there. You could sit there and be comfortable and ‘I won’t expose myself here’ or ‘I’m going to have a go’ but if you never have a go you’ll never know. That’s what we need to do, we need to keep just pushing the boundaries. Sometimes we will fail but we will fail having a crack.”
But how far is his group off premiership contention? While clearly determined to be there as early as possible, Ratten wasn’t putting any expectations or restrictions on what his group could achieve or when.
“It’s interesting,” he said “You don’t know really the development of [Max] King, [Nick] Coffield, [Hunter] Clark, [Ben] Paton. Our younger players are probably going to be the ones that really take us to the next level. They’ve shown they’ve got talent. They are talented players but probably in that game of footy tonight our consistency across the board for four quarters probably wasn’t there versus a Richmond. They were a bit stronger around the contest, a little bit more explosive at times and a bit cleaner at times as well.”
“So that’s our challenge as a club but how quickly can we get there? We’ll probably add another few players from outside our footy club onto our list. There will be changes and there’s always challenges with that too because when you take people out of our environment and bring new people in your culture can change. So you have to be careful that we maintain what we are trying to do on the field and off the field as well.”
With a young and relatively inexperienced group, in comparison to the other 2020 finalists, getting games into his developing players is a priority for Ratten in improving his team. But he admitted there were a few areas the club needed to address before they could challenge for the premiership. In doing so he also flagged the Saints intention to once again be a player during the trade period.
“There’s a little bit of a combination, there isn’t just one thing. I think it’s the dynamics and maybe the connection between each line,” he said. “Probably just a bit more maturity in our back end, the games and what we’ve produced this year, and the self-belief that will come through playing the finals for these young fellas especially [will help]. So its a bit of everything I think. I think we’ll go for a few things through the trade period with positions and things like that for a bit more support for players or areas of our team.”
“But it’d be good to get another midfielder in, that would really help us. Maybe pushing them more into the forward line to get a bit more goal scoring power as well because we know [Jack] Steele, [Jack] Billings, they can hit the scoreboard but probably didn’t quite have that luxury. Would have been nice to have [Jade] Gresham out there but he wasn’t. He was in the stands. So we probably missed that a little bit.”