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Hope and despair at the Saints

Things can change quickly in the AFL.

About halfway through the third quarter against Essendon two weekends ago it looked like St Kilda were about to run over the top of the Bombers and return to normal programming. But instead the Saints capitulated to the worst loss of the season.

Well, it was the worst loss of the season to that point. We didn’t know that was going to be a precursor to the worst performance in about four years. Or, if we really want to dive into the despair, the worst performance to three-quarter-time against the Swans in over a century, Brett Ratten’s lowest score in his career and the third-lowest score of any club this season.

The last thing I wrote on here was about hope. Ah, those early season days where things were looking up. Max King looked unstoppable. The midfield was fast and skilful and accurate. The defence was rendering the best forwards in the game useless.

There was hope.

Hope is a funny thing. I don’t think that it’s going too far to say that the performances of the Saints throughout 2020 got many fans through those dark days of lockdown. Watching a team on the rise gave us all hope that things would get better. And while last year left a lot to be desired, there was still the hope that it was merely a blip. The core was still young and learning, and with the end of lockdown the new dawn of St Kilda would be seen.

And right up until the bye that hope was sustaining us. Even after the Port Adelaide disaster in Cairns we still imagined that it was simply a blip.

Max King

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

But now, with those performances against Brisbane, Essendon and Sydney, the hope has ended. Despair has set in once again. The emotion hangs over Moorabbin like a cloud blocking all sun. No matter what happens, it seems like the cloud will never be shifted permanently and that the club is cursed to only ever enjoy a few rays of sunshine. And then the cloud returns us to our harsh reality.

Who is to provide the hope, then?

It can’t come from the players or the hierarchy at the club alone.

The hardcore fans will still turn up every week, so maybe it’s them we look to to rebuild some hope. They’ve been through it all before and still appear week after week, expecting nothing.

If they can inspire something, anything, in the players on the field, that might just rekindle some re-emergence of the form from earlier this season or even from 2020. A win is needed, be it a good win or an ugly win. That is the most important thing. Something resembling free-flowing gameplay instead of the static hesitancy that has dominated the last fortnight would be an added extra.

The two do go hand in hand. Static, slow football will not win another match this year, and static football does not inspire much hope that next year will be very different. It’s not exactly the brand you can build stories and legends on, except perhaps stories of despair.

A win might just start a new story. A story of quiet, not public, hope. A belief, however slight, that maybe things will get better again. A whispered thought saying maybe finals are still possible.

St Kilda always seems to be on a precipice. The hope is usually for the club to simply survive. But when it feels like success might be somewhere just around the corner, that hope is replaced by another genuine hope for success. To have that ripped away so suddenly causes a kind of double despair. We won’t ever win again. And the club might not survive.

We are on the edge again of that.

But then again, the Saints might win on Friday night. It’s not likely, but there is a chance. If they do, all these thoughts will still be relevant. But maybe the utter despair that has set in might be put aside for a few days.

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