THIS is not what Jarrod Lienert pictured 2022 looking like. It is immensely better.
Less than two months ago, the 27-year-old was about to start teaching at Henley High School and was preparing to play for Sturt in the SANFL, before a phone call changed the trajectory of his year and his football career.
St Kilda young gun Nick Coffield had torn his anterior cruciate ligament a week earlier and the club wanted to explore some depth across half-back, presenting an option for a mature-age solution via the pre-season supplemental selection period.
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Saints list manager James Gallagher picked up the phone to Lienert – 15 weeks after he was told Port Adelaide wouldn’t offer him another contract – and delisted Tiger Patrick Naish, inviting them to trial for an AFL lifeline.
They were given no guarantees the club would use the vacant list spot on either of them, but by the time the SSP deadline slammed shut on March 9, Lienert and Naish were both back in the AFL system – Lienert at St Kilda and Naish at West Coast.
Now, a month after being the final player added to St Kilda's list, Lienert has played the past two games in Brett Ratten's side, including Sunday's stunning come-from-behind win over Richmond at Marvel Stadium, where he played his role by collecting 19 disposals, eight intercept possessions and seven marks.
"It obviously looked a bit different than what it does right now, I'll tell you that much," Lienert told AFL.com.au in the rooms after St Kilda's 33-point win on Sunday.
"I've studied teaching on and off for the last eight or nine years. I was just about to finish my final placement and I was going to play footy at Sturt in the SANFL, which I was really excited about.
"Finally got my teaching placement lined up with Henley High and then 10 minutes after that I got a call from my manager saying the Saints wanted me to come over for a trial. It's unbelievable how it's all happened and how things have changed so drastically."
Before Lienert was added to St Kilda's list in early March, the South Australian was back in Adelaide during the four-day break waiting by the phone to learn his fate. Gallagher had just signed Woodville West-Torrens star Jack Hayes a few days earlier and Lienert was the next decision he had to make.
It had been a long summer of waiting and hoping for Lienert. Two other AFL clubs showed interest after the trade, but nothing materialised, despite a meeting with one club and a medical with the other. A handful of VFL clubs also tried to sign him, but it was St Kilda who swooped late.
"It was during the break and I went home and I was waiting for the call all day basically. If I didn’t get the call I would have recommenced my life with the teaching placement or I would have had to drive back over and start a new life in Melbourne," he said.
"It was a long day. I think it was about 3pm when he called. He said he was going to call in the morning, so it was a long day. I was so over the moon, so happy to get the good news."
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Lienert played 23 games for the Power across five seasons at Alberton and was always more than serviceable, after being plucked from Sturt via the Rookie Draft at the end of 2016.
But when the mobile tall defender was delisted by Port Adelaide at the end of last season, some inside the club were surprised he didn’t land another contract, including Lienert.
"I was a little bit shocked, I thought I would get another gig," he said.
"But at the same time, I was excited by what was next, whether that was getting picked up by another club – that was obviously the aim and the dream – but if not, I was really excited by what was next at Sturt.
"I had five years at Port which I couldn’t reflect on more highly, I loved every minute. No doubt there were some selection frustrations there at times, but it shocked me to get delisted."
After staying with former Port Adelaide teammate Dougal Howard during his trial at RSEA Park, Lienert is currently living with Hayes while he waits for his girlfriend to move over later this month.
The Murray Bridge product is now playing with the pair in Brett Ratten's 22 and pinching himself, making the trip west to face Fremantle last weekend before navigating a nightmare day of Melbourne traffic to play Richmond on Sunday.
"When I was an emergency for round one I was very surprised. Well, not surprised, but I wasn’t expecting it," he said.
"I thought: How good is this? I've only been here a few weeks and now I'm an emergency. To then get the call up last week and play the last two weeks, I'd be lying if I said I thought it was going to come this quick."
Lienert played six games in his second year at Port Adelaide in 2017, seven in his third and five in each of his final two. But after playing two of the first three in 2022, he wants more. Much more.
"I'm not really someone who sets goals, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn’t in the back of my head that I want to play more than what I have played," he said.
"Hopefully I can keep getting games under my belt and hopefully I can keep helping us win games of footy. That’s the goal. I'm loving every minute of being out there. It's pretty clear that this group is pretty talented."
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The classroom can wait for Mr Lienert. He has unfinished business in the AFL.