ALAN Richardson says he's never been prouder of his Saints when they've fallen short of victory, having watched his young side snatch a thrilling draw with finals contenders Geelong at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.
The Saints led for most of the match after a blistering start of four unanswered goals, but had to come from behind in the final term to square the ledger 97-all after Cats youngster Nakia Cockatoo booted a long running goal.
Having lost seven players to injury from last week's side – including key players David Armitage, Dylan Roberton and Sean Dempster – it was a brave effort.
"It was as proud as I've been without getting the result," Richardson said post-match.
"For it to be an arm-wrestle all day – even after such a promising start – for the guys not to wilt in any way and just keep coming and keep coming … there was a lot of positives, there's no doubt about that."
Shane Savage had the chance to be the hero in the dying seconds when he snapped at goal as he was being tackled, but missed to the near side.
Earlier, the former Hawk had dribbled through a behind after running into goal from 20m out.
"I think those two behinds are the first two behinds he's kicked for the year and when you consider where he's normally having shots from … he had 690-odd metres (gained) for us today. He had a fantastic game," Richardson said.
"We put him forward to get a bit of life and get a couple of shots and he got two shots he didn't convert.
"He was kicking himself after the game, but that happens. He'll learn from that, he'll work on his craft, but his performance was strong."
Richardson said Savage typified the strong Saints' performance when he ran down Steve Johnson as he waltzed into an open goal in the second quarter, in a critical passage of play.
"It was a beauty. We had the clip ready to show the group at half-time. We didn't get the opportunity because I spoke for too long, but it was a real highlight," he said.
There were many match-defining moments in the frantic final term.
Richardson lamented Maverick Weller not receiving a 50m penalty in the dying stages when Cory Gregson appeared to overstep the mark on the Saints' half-forward flank.
"Every day of the week (it should've been 50m). I'm not sure what happened there, I presume the umpire was blinded. He ran over it a long way," Richardson said.
However, the umpires earlier saved the Saints when Steven Motlop was called for running too far just as he was about to bang through his second goal in a row to put Geelong eight points ahead.
"The decision was a good one, they got that one right," Richardson said.
The Saints coach hailed the successful debut by American ruckman Jason Holmes and said it could pave the way for more clubs to mine other sports in search of dominant big men.
The Chicago native performed well in his first match, finishing with 34 hit-outs, seven possessions and three tackles.
He gave the Saints, ranked 17th for clearances leading into the match, some impetus around the contest with his high-leaping and deft tap work.
The Saints scored 9.2 from stoppages, compared to the Cats' 2.1.
"He's had two clearances himself. We haven't been that dominant at clearances for his long time, in fact probably not for the year, so that's his job," Richardson said.
"Whilst we weren't up against the monsters tonight, he showed enough to suggest that we might to be able to be much more competitive in that space with someone that is that tall with a 210cm wingspan that can jump the way he can jump."