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Why the Saints' great escape 'meant a lot' to the players

Watch the last two minutes: StK v GC Relive the thrilling final moments between the Saints and the Suns

IT MAY have only been a one-point win, but the nail-biting victory against Gold Coast at Marvel Stadium clearly meant a lot to St Kilda's players.

Their excitement and energy was palpable as they belted out the team song after the match. Undermanned and under fire following a tumultuous pre-season, St Kilda's players were under no illusion as to what starting the season off on the right note signalled.

SAINTS SHADE SUNS Full match coverage and stats

Even coach Alan Richardson was slightly taken aback by the passion and gusto that his players displayed. 

"They sung the song with a little more energy and passion than I thought they might have but it just showed that it meant a lot on the back of our last month," Richardson said in his post-game press conference. 

Gold Coast, a side many have tipped to win the wooden spoon due largely to a developing list demographic, opened up a 17-point lead early in the first quarter to lay down the challenge to the Saints. 

St Kilda responded and took a 13-point lead into the major break with Richardson expecting his group to seize control and put a young Suns team to the sword.

But the game did not transpire the way Richardson envisaged it would and Gold Coast had its chances to cause an almighty upset with only minutes left in the game. 

"It's probably the wrong thing to say actually," Richardson said when addressing a follow-up question to his comments about the way his players had sung the song. 

"It's probably a reflection of the way I felt. I just felt that we had a team where we wanted them at half-time and we let them back in the game. It was pleasing it meant so much to them (the players)."

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Richardson said he understood the magnitude of breaking the duck early in the season, particularly after a volatile pre-season.

Following a disastrous 2018 campaign that yielded just four wins, St Kilda came under plenty of scrutiny over the pre-season.

Richardson's tenure at the club was a major talking point, with many commentators suggesting the coach may be a dead man walking if improvement is not shown at the start of this season. 

The pressure on Richardson intensified in light of the slow progress star recruit Dan Hannebery has made recovering from hamstring and calf issues after the club signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.  

Player unavailability also hit hard with news that star defender Jake Carlisle was likely to miss most of the season following more surgery on a troublesome back injury and teammate Dylan Roberton unfortunately being forced to sit out the season after a repeat heart condition left him "feeling wonky" in a pre-season game. 

With key backman Nathan Brown suspended for round one, the Saints signed state league player Jonathan Marsh and former Blue Sam Rowe to contracts via the supplemental selection period rule to address their dearth of tall backs.

If that wasn't enough, four-time best and fairest winner Jack Steven also took an indefinite period of leave to address some mental health issues and, as such, had an interrupted build up to the game against the Suns.

WATCH Alan Richardson's full post-match media conference

Midfielder Jack Billings, who gathered a team-high 28 disposals against the Suns, said after the game that Richardson had done a brilliant job of bringing everyone together despite the circumstances of the past month. 

"External noise is always going to happen but Richo's been amazing over the pre-season. His support and care and love for the guys has been huge," Billings told AFL.com.au.

Richardson made mention of debutants Matthew Parker, who brought energy and life to St Kilda's attacking half with two goals and 42 pressure acts, and rookie-listed defender Callum Wilkie who stood tall late in the game among a flurry of repeat inside 50 entries from Gold Coast.

"I was just really pleased for our players and our fans because of all the uncertainty and how would our team cope with some of the players out of the team. I was really pleased for those guys that got their opportunity," Richardson said. 

The Saints will face Essendon, stung after being torched by Greater Western Sydney, at Marvel Stadium off a six-day break. Richardson knows improvement will have to be made if his side is to continue its winning form.

"We learn. We've got some new coaches who have had some positive influence on how we move the ball and the way we defend," Richardson said.

"There was some stuff that was good today and there was some stuff that wasn't – I think that was totally understandable. It will be much more learning indoors than on the training track but we'll try to get that balance right."