THE OUTLOOK was bleak for St Kilda before the season started and it was unable to prove its knockers wrong, with the club's first wooden spoon since 2000 looming. The Saints lost 11 straight matches between rounds six and 16, losing a number of key players to injury along the way. It was another tough year in a long, ongoing rebuild.
Alan Richardson immediately earned the respect of his players
in his first season as senior coach and improved the environment at Seaford. Contracted until the end of the 2016 season, he implemented a culture of hard work and gave the players a clear game plan to follow. He kept a low profile, often conducting his weekly press conferences late in the week and rarely straying into controversial territory.
At the end of Scott Watters' two-year run as coach, it is fair to say the Saints' senior players didn't have a strong relationship with their boss. In that context, the appointment of Richardson has worked and there are now solid foundations for a rebuild.
The recruitment of former Gold Coast midfielder Mav Weller gave the Saints another run-with option and the rookie was able to shut down a number of star opponents, including Bryce Gibbs and Nat Fyfe.
With Tom Curren also playing 16 games, the Saints used their defensive midfielders well.After playing a makeshift, undersized backline in 2013, the Saints finally had some tall defenders at their disposal. North Melbourne recruit Luke Delaney was a solid backman all season and played every game.
Injuries through the season highlighted the Saints' lack of outside run. They battled hard on the inside but were hurt by the absence of runners like Jarryn Geary and Jimmy Webster at half-back.A lack of support for Nick Riewoldt was compounded when the Saints' midfielders couldn't hit up their captain on the lead. Riewoldt was a star in 2014, but the sight of kicks flying over his head was too regular.Long-term, the Saints will benefit from using 42 players – more than every club bar GWS – but playing so many youngsters meant the Saints were consistently exposed. There were games when Richardson questioned their effort and belief.
MVP: Nick Riewoldt
Playing every game and leading the Saints with 49 goals, Riewoldt delivered another fine season when his club desperately needed it. He took more marks than any player in the League (184), often leading up to ground to provide a get-out option. He was the star in each of the Saints' four wins, booting 17 goals across those games.
Surprise packet: Jack Newnes
Natural improvement was forecast for the third-year Saint, but he went beyond all expectations in 2014. Averaging 20 possessions and lifting his output in contested ball, clearances, tackles and inside 50s, Newnes became one of the Saints' most consistent performers across half-back and in the midfield. It underlined his leadership potential perhaps a year or two ahead of schedule.
Best rookie/first-year player: Luke Dunstan
A tough onballer who fights for every possession he wins, Dunstan won the hearts of St Kilda supporters in his first game, finishing with 29 possessions and earning a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination
. He played 16 games before a shoulder injury ended his season. Recruited with pick No.18 in the 2013 NAB AFL Draft, he shapes as the heir apparent to champion midfielder Lenny Hayes.
Luke Dunstan was outstanding early in the season. Picture: AFL Media
Disappointment: Tom Lee
A strong end to the 2013 season prompted hope Tom Lee could be the player to stand up alongside Nick Riewoldt and provide another – desperately needed – tall option. He had both shoulders reconstructed in the off-season and started the year in the VFL with modest form. He played just three games before his season was ended by more shoulder troubles.
Best win: 58-point win over Fremantle, round 18, Etihad Stadium
Lenny Hayes announced in the build-up that he would retire at the end of the season, and as it turned out he got to sing the song one more time after one of the great upsets. Fremantle had won its past eight games to sit in second spot, and the bottom-placed Saints had lost 11 straight. They stunned the Dockers, however, to win by 58 points
with Nick Riewoldt and Rhys Stanley combining for seven goals.
After nine losses in succession, St Kilda came up against a Carlton outfit that was also desperately out of form in round 16. With Lenny Hayes sidelined and Leigh Montagna tagged out of the contest, it was a very long day for the Saints
, who went down by 85 points. Coach Alan Richardson said the result was a reflection of a group that "didn't have a crack for long enough". The next week they would kick just three goals against North Melbourne, extending their losing streak to 11 games.
What needs to improve?Development is the most pressing issue for St Kilda's football department, and the club is expected to direct more resources towards the area from 2015 on. With a clear strategy to rebuild the list through the draft, the Saints will need more full-time development coaches to ensure their talented youngsters can lead a revival.
Who's done? Retirements: Lenny Hayes, Beau Maister
Hayes will finish his magnificent career on 297 games
, with a Norm Smith Medal (2010) and three All Australian selections (2003, 2005, 2009). He said the time was right to retire, with his body "on the edge of the cliff". Maister announced his immediate retirement in June after shoulder surgery ended his season.
Delistings: Trent Dennis-Lane, Terry Milera, Sam Dunell, Clint Jones
Dennis-Lane (one game in 2014), Milera (five) and Dunell (three) have been unable to push into the team and are likely to be cut. Jones has played 14 games in 2014 but will be 31 at the start of next season.
Trades/free agents: Leigh Montagna, James Gwilt, Arryn Siposs
The Saints' willingness to move senior stars when they still have currency means Montagna is a candidate to be raised in trade discussions. Gwilt is an experienced key defender down the pecking order, while Siposs has talent but is yet to realise it at St Kilda.
What they need
Finding a replacement for Nick Riewoldt should be the Saints' priority in the next 12 months. The decision they need to make is whether they use their first pick on a young forward like Patrick McCartin
or try to engineer a trade for goalkicker in the system, like Giant Tom Boyd. More class in the midfield is also needed, so Eastern Ranges onballer Christian Petracca is the other option with pick No.1 if the Saints stay in 18th.