IN ROUND 16, 2017, St Kilda pasted Richmond by 67 points.
The Tigers went on to win the flag.
The Saints, having been 9-6 and seemingly set for finals, would miss the top-eight, endure a disastrous 2018 and, despite showing fight this year, be stricken by injuries and never really in the running to make finals and win one, thus enacting the trigger in Alan Richardson's contract that would have seen him continue as coach next season.
AFL.com.au has looked at six factors since that July night two years ago leading to Richardson handing in his resignation this week.
A horrendous injury toll
The Saints already lacked elite players, so a pre-season that saw them lose four-time best and fairest Jack Steven (mental illness), Jake Carlisle (back surgery), Dylan Roberton (heart), Dan Hannebery (hamstrings/calves) and former No.1 pick Paddy McCartin (concussion) was crippling. The combined games total of that group in 2019 is 10. Then, during a campaign that saw the team defy expectations and hit 6-6, captain Jarryn Geary, Jack Lonie, Jimmy Webster and Dean Kent all missed extended stints. Richardson never had a chance of reaching the top-eight.
Stunted development of younger players
When Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield were drafted at No.7 and 8 respectively in 2017, it seemed St Kilda was set to rectify its ball-use deficiency. That's why it was particularly odd to watch them languish in the VFL while the senior side struggled to hit targets in attack. Clark is playing good footy now, but after being pumped up by the club as a summer standout, didn't even play round one and has managed just eight matches, despite being available for selection. Coffield has lined up in only four because the coaching staff wanted to see him improve his consistency of defensive efforts. Ben Long is another of the Saints' most exciting prospects but has been scratchy. Maybe expectations are too high for those early in their career but there are others at St Kilda whose development stagnated, and that's why the club floundered after losing two of its greats.
Hunter Clark is finally graduating to bigger roles. Picture: AFL Photos
No replacements for retiring champions
At the end of 2017, when Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna retired, the Saints thought their younger wave was ready to take over. Instead, the club would win just four games the following year. Those who should have been ready to take the next step were either no longer there, or not delivering. Of the five draftees from 2012, only Lewis Pierce remains. The club's three top-20 selections from 2013 – Jack Billings, Luke Dunstan and Blake Acres – all struggled. Billings has since emerged as a star but after a shocking start to 2018, was eventually dropped. Dunstan has been effective recently as an inside midfielder but is limited outside the contest, and like Acres, is prone to shoddy foot skills. The leadership void left by Riewoldt and Montagna proved too big to fill and contributed to the decision to acquire Hannebery.
Recruiting Dan Hannebery
St Kilda went after Hannebery, arguing he was a much-needed A-grader. Hannebery, 28, who needed to have his body rebuilt after injuries cut him down in his final two years at Sydney, played two games and is out again as he deals with a problematic hamstring. A significant chunk of the salary cap – about $800,000 a season – was used to chase someone Richardson was barely able to deploy.
The shock loss of Dylan Roberton
The intercepting backman was nominated in the Virgin Australia AFL All Australian squad of 40 in 2017. In his fourth game of 2018, he collapsed on field against Geelong after suffering an irregular heartbeat. That was a huge blow. Then, after training throughout the pre-season, the defibrillator that had been implanted into his chest was activated late in the second of his two JLT Community Series games, against the Western Bulldogs, and Roberton was ruled out for the season. The absence of his calm head over the past two years has had a massive impact.
Drafting injured players
Ahead of what would be Richardson's sixth and final season in charge, the club selected Max King and Jack Bytel with its first two selections. King was recovering from a right knee reconstruction and Bytel had a back issue that eventually required an operation. They might both end up the correct calls for St Kilda, and King showed in his five matches for Sandringham why he might have been nabbed with the first pick had he not been sidelined. Nevertheless, using those selections on a duo who couldn't immediately contribute didn't help Richardson's cause.
Likely top-five draft pick Max King has had an absolute day out today, booting 8.6 in the TAC Cup for Sandringham against Oakleigh. One of the all-time dominant games. Contested marking phenomenal. Athletic, footy smart and powerful. Wow.— Callum Twomey (@CalTwomey) March 31, 2018