Isaac Keeler, Lance Collard, Liam Henry, Brad Hill, Marcus Windhager and Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera in St Kilda's guernseys for 2024 Sir Doug Nicholls Round. Picture: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

ST KILDA Football Club will adopt a different name for the first time in its 151-year existence during this year's Sir Doug Nicholls Round, changing to its Boon Wurrung name Euro-Yroke for fixtures against Fremantle and Melbourne in rounds 10 and 11.

The Saints will wear two different jumpers across the fortnight, which have been designed by proud Wagiman man and Indigenous artist Nathan Patterson, featuring a yellow variation for the home clash against Walyalup (Fremantle) before wearing a white alternative against Narrm (Melbourne).

After hitting a peak of 87 Indigenous players on AFL lists back in 2020, there are only 72 in 2024, prompting the AFL to bolster its football department to address this decline, focusing on improving the talent pathways program to unearth the next wave of First Nations stars. 

Along with West Coast, Gold Coast and Richmond, St Kilda currently has the second-most Indigenous players on its AFL list with six – Bradley Hill, Liam Henry, Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, Marcus Windhager, Lance Collard and Isaac Keeler – behind only Port Adelaide with seven. The Saints are better than most in this space.

They call Hill 'uncle' at RSEA Park. After arriving at the Saints at the same time as veteran Paddy Ryder at the end of 2019, Hill has evolved into the person the club's young Indigenous players confide in. He is the one that makes them comfortable, the one that holds them accountable, like when a few were late for the Sir Doug Nicholls jumper photo shoot.

Brad Hill in St Kilda's guernsey for 2024 Sir Doug Nicholls Round. Picture: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

"When I first got here, we had Paddy and he naturally had that role being the older one but I've always told the boys I'm always here for them. I always have them around at the house for a feed and had them all live with me," Hill tells at Ormond Lookout this week.

"When Lance and Liam first came over, I wanted to take them in. I've always said my door is open for anyone, but with another one on the way I will be locking the door now. Liam is still there at the moment, but he has bought a house and will be out soon."

Henry crossed paths with Hill when they were both at the Dockers, back when he was a member of Fremantle's Next Generation Academy, before the three-time premiership Hawk returned to Melbourne after four seasons back in his home state.

The wingman-forward has lived with Hill, his wife Sammy and daughter Harriet since moving to Victoria and is about to move into a property he just bought in Sandringham. But his transition from Perth to Melbourne has been smooth, largely due to the veteran. 

"'Hilly' has definitely been a big influence, just being able to come over and part of me and a part of home is here," Henry said. "I think that has settled me into a space where I can learn from an older, experienced player, who is now in his prime. His family has been amazing for me with Sam and the little one 'H' and another one on the way. They have welcomed me and given me the feeling of home. That has settled me."

Wanganeen-Milera dealt with homesickness battles during his first season at Moorabbin. Some inside the club didn't think he would re-sign that year and would head back to South Australia at the end of his initial two-year deal. But then he settled in an environment that has invested heavily in Indigenous welfare. 

"I look forward to coming in every day because he [Hill] makes it a real fun environment after games and during the week at training. He makes things a competition and drags people along, especially in the running over pre-season," Wanganeen-Milera said. 

"There are a lot of blokes who have come from interstate, from Adelaide and from the country and from WA as well; we all come from different states. You don't know a lot of people outside the club and pretty much only have each other. That's a pro of that. It's a real fun environment at the club, it is a credit to the coaches who have built that culture."

Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera in St Kilda's guernsey for 2024 Sir Doug Nicholls Round. Picture: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

St Kilda appointed Aunty Katrina Amon as the club's first Indigenous player development manager (IPM) at the start of 2022 to improve its support of First Nations people and to help educate others. Then COO Simon Lethlean called out of the blue one morning to offer the role, altering the direction of Amon's career after 34 years as a teacher at Parkdale Secondary College. Long-time welfare manager Tony Brown knew of her work and coached her son, Hawthorn wingman Karl at Haileybury College, helping drive the appointment. 

Under Amon's watch, the Saints have opened the Yawa Room – Yawa means journey in Boon Wurrung language – on the top level of the club's Linton Street headquarters, part of the building where the line between the administration and the football department blurs. The room is dedicated to those who have worn the jumper previously, but is just a small part of the program. 

"The idea was for me to come in as IPM and look after the indigenous players. They are my players to care for in both the men's and women's programs and cater for their needs," Amon said. 

"The senior Indigenous players spoke to Gill [McLachlan] and they wanted an Indigenous person within the club. It is important because they wanted someone to support the players and their needs, because they do have different needs, a lot of them get homesick, so we have to really accommodate for them, allow them to go home and other ways to support them.

"We have a yarning circle every fortnight and when we do acknowledgement of country it is 100 per cent what they want to do. We want to give them that power and do what they want to do. My role is to embed Aboriginal culture in the club and also to educate the non-Indigenous people in the club as well. Everyone is taking it on board. They are always asking questions about what's involved. Little things show that we are serious about this and it's not just tokenism."

Aunty Katrina has had a big impact on Hill. As has Ross Lyon. They spent four years together at Fremantle before reuniting at the end of 2022, when the veteran coach returned to Moorabbin for a second stint as senior coach.  

"He is the best I've had in that [embracing Indigenous players] space," Hill said. "I think he understands on the back of where he grew up in Reservoir and the harder upbringing. He is super invested in everyone's story. Even when we were at Freo I think we had the most ever Indigenous players at one time. I think we had 10 or 11 there in 2018 or 2019. Ross helped a lot change their life. He has always been great. I've seen it now with 'Lancey', helping getting his partner over. Ross is definitely the best I've seen."

Liam Henry in St Kilda's guernsey for 2024 Sir Doug Nicholls Round. Picture: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

Henry is only 22 but the next eldest Indigenous player at the club. Windhager and Wanganeen-Milera have displayed their leadership qualities during their time at the club. Henry wants to not only help the other young guns at the club, but others in the community who need direction navigating life challenges. 

"I definitely do want to become a leader," Henry said. "We've got emerging leaders like 'Naz' and 'Windy', who are both very welcoming. I hold myself to a high standard so they are setting the standard. I think that's definitely a space I want to get into, not just for myself but for my family and community back home. There is more to life than the little community they grew up in and that shouldn't define what they do. They can go into something bigger in AFL or studying in Perth or whatever they want to do."

After missing six games with a hamstring injury, Henry is set to return for this weekend's trip to Launceston to face Hawthorn, just in time to play in Sir Doug Nicholls Round, when St Kilda becomes Euro-Yroke for a fortnight.