JUST two days after St Kilda's first finals win in 10 years last season, the Saints had their sights set on 2021 and were ready to embrace the impending expectations.
Seven of the best and fairest top-10 were 24 years or younger and that didn't include Jack Billings, Bradley Hill, Jade Gresham or Max King who all finished in double digits. Plus, with the signatures of Brad Crouch and Jack Higgins to follow, it's easy to see why many had the Saints pushing for top four.
"The big challenge for us next year (2021) is, there's going to be huge expectations on everybody," coach Brett Ratten told the club's best and fairest in Queensland in October.
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"Opposition teams, media, people are going to put us under more scrutiny, and we need to look forward to that challenge because that means they're starting to respect us and that's the opportunity we have as a football club.
"Embrace the climb as (president) Andrew (Bassat) just put it. We have to climb the mountain and we're going to be under duress, and we need to look forward to it and keep striving."
But 10 games on, and after a 111-point belting at the hands of the Western Bulldogs – the side they defeated for their breakthrough win in 2020 – the Saints are running away from the same expectations.
And while Bassat was on the front foot Monday night conceding the 4-6 start to the season as "embarrassing" and "far worse than even the most pessimistic expectations", his email to members came with a mind-boggling retrofit that the club wasn't planning for a premiership tilt for at least another 12 months.
The Saints list was constructed for the now.
It's hard to argue otherwise when, after landing King at pick No.4 in 2018, they opted to move on a first-round pick in 2019 and shuffle their first 2020 pick back to No.26 to land key targets.
The additions of Hill, Zak Jones, Paddy Ryder, Dan Butler and Dougal Howard ahead of 2020 were complemented by Crouch and Higgins for 2021 to address a lack of midfield depth.
And while James Frawley (32), Shaun McKernan (30), Mason Wood (27) and Paul Hunter (28) were added for back-up, only teams believing they were in a window to contend would select depth players in such an age demographic.
Much has been made of the Saints entering 2021 with the oldest list on average, which was in-part skewed higher by Frawley, McKernan, Hunter and the now-retired Dylan Roberton (29).
However, in 2020 they had the 10th most experienced list for average games played and finished top-six. In 2021, they sit third and, of the fresh arrivals, only Frawley had played more than 100 games.
It's why it's truly hard to comprehend one line in Bassat's letter.
"We knew that with our list profile we would need to be patient to be competitive every week against the better sides and that our genuine window would more likely start in 2022 than 2021," Bassat said.
The Saints beat the Dogs, premiers Richmond and preliminary finalists Port Adelaide in 2020. So, what were they supposedly 'striving' for 2021? And why was a 27-year-old Crouch on approximately $550,000 per season added to a semi-final side that wasn't ready to contend for a flag?
Yes, they've been hit with injuries, but as all key stakeholders at the club have stated this week, it doesn't account for a plummeting in form that has seen their scoring go from fourth to 17th in the space of half a season.
Every side has dealt with injuries in 2021. Rowan Marshall is a massive loss and Jones is out of the engine room, but Brisbane – a side the Saints lost to by two points last year – has gone four games unbeaten without Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale and Geelong looks a serious threat without Patrick Dangerfield.
On the weekend the Dogs dished up the shellacking of the season without Tim English, Stefan Martin, Easton Wood, Josh Dunkley and Adam Treloar for a half.
Defender Ben Paton is another important cog out of the Saints' best side, but Bassat also threw Dan Hannebery and Jade Gresham's name in on Monday and the reality is, that pair combined for just 11 games in the run to finals last year.
And in the past fortnight alone, the Saints have gone from recording 87 tackles in a spirited performance against Geelong to 48 in a hapless display against the Dogs.
Ratten was at a loss to explain their showing post-game on Saturday night and chief operating officer Simon Lethlean said on Monday they would need to uncover what's been behind the gulf between their best and worst that has included three losses in excess of 75 points.
While they search for answers, it's time to tell the members straight. This was a side that was meant to be contending in 2021 and to this point, has produced nothing short of a disaster.