Sunday Herald Sun - - Afl -

ROSS Lyon didn’t in­volve him­self a great deal in re­cruit­ing dis­cus­sions in my first two years at St Kilda. He had a phrase: “Let the cob­blers cob­ble.”

It was a dif­fer­ent story when it came to the trade pe­riod.

In 2007, Ross was in­sis­tent that we ex­change our sec­ond-round draft se­lec­tion with Syd­ney for Sean Demp­ster and Adam Sch­nei­der. The fol­low­ing year we again traded out a sec­ond-round pick for Far­ren Ray, al­though it was Matthew Drain, who had re­placed Ken Shel­don as foot­ball man­ager 12 months ear­lier, who was be­hind that par­tic­u­lar push.

Where Ross ex­erted con­sid­er­able draft in­flu­ence was dur­ing de­lib­er­a­tions over Cyril Ri­oli ahead of the 2007 na­tional draft. We had se­lec­tion No.9. I rated Cyril com­fort­ably in­side the top 10. For some rea­son Ross had the slows on him.

Cyril did not in­ter­view well at the draft com­bine. That said, it is not un­com­mon for play­ers to present as shy and ner­vous when grilled by AFL coaches and as­sorted club of­fi­cials. This is es­pe­cially so with indige­nous play­ers. In fair­ness to Ross, when he met Cyril for the first time, Cyril was dif­fi­cult to en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion or elicit much of a re­sponse from.

Cyril ap­peared re­luc­tant or pos­si­bly lacked con­fi­dence to en­gage. His re­sponses were lim­ited and lit­tle in­sight into his char­ac­ter was gained.

The psy­cho­log­i­cal test­ing did not re­veal any more of Cyril’s char­ac­ter and there­fore it re­mained an un­known as­pect of his pro­file.

I was over­see­ing my first na­tional draft and didn’t have any runs on the board. I dis­closed my co­nun­drum to a friend. His ad­vice was that I’d be run­ning the gaunt­let to use a firstround se­lec­tion on a player the coach had mis­giv­ings about.

With se­lec­tion nine we chose Ben McEvoy. I rated Ben highly as well. I was also of the opin­ion that a good ruck­man is needed to win fi­nals.

I didn’t mind Tom Bellcham­bers, but had con­cerns about his ma­tu­rity, and Daw­son Simp­son de­served an op­por­tu­nity, but not as an early draft se­lec­tion. Ben and Matthew Kreuzer, who Carl­ton drafted at No.1, were the only rucks I had con­fi­dence in.

I wear the crit­i­cism for se­lect­ing Ben ahead of Cyril (Hawthorn, pick 12) and Patrick Danger­field (Ade­laide, pick 10), but sleep a lit­tle eas­ier now that Ben is a dual pre­mier­ship ruck­man (al­beit as a Hawk) and on track to play more than 200 AFL games.

Our next se­lec­tion af­ter Ben in the 2007 draft was pick 42, which I had tar­geted for Jack Steven of the Gee­long Fal­cons.

This was based on the as­sump­tion that he would still be avail­able. I had re­searched Jack ex­ten­sively and the fact that he had only been in­vited to a state com­bine sug­gested that he wasn’t to ev­ery club’s lik­ing.

I un­der­stood that too, as Jack did have some rough edges. That’s why I was rea­son­ably op­ti­mistic Jack would be there at se­lec­tion 42. Of course, we had also traded in Sch­nei­der from Syd­ney. Hence, if we drafted Cyril, it would have meant bring­ing in three smalls to­gether.

In hind­sight you would say it didn’t mat­ter as they were all good play­ers, but at the time I was mind­ful of hav­ing a bal­anced draft.

Ross made no se­cret that he loved quick and skil­ful play­ers, which suited me fine. In my first year at St Kilda we didn’t have philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ences on the types of play­ers we were con­sid­er­ing.

THAT changed when we se­lected Tom Lynch at my sec­ond draft. The 2007 sea­son was Ross’ first as a se­nior coach and my im­pres­sion was that he hadn’t fully bed­ded down his game plan. He then took the team to a pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal in 2008 and the Grand Fi­nal in 2009. For St Kilda to win 19 con­sec­u­tive games that sea­son and lead Gee­long in time-on of the fi­nal quar­ter of the Grand Fi­nal, was an out­stand­ing coach­ing ef­fort by Ross.

Un­for­tu­nately for the Saints, Shan­non Byrnes and Travis Var­coe both had an im­pact for Gee­long in the last quar­ter and this le­git­imised an in­ter­nal view that we had been beaten by pace. I still main­tain that Gee­long’s bot­tom six play­ers were sim­ply su­pe­rior to ours, but Ross ve­he­mently dis­agreed. In fact, he be­came more in­flex­i­ble with re­gard to leg speed, which led to con­flict be­tween us.

In the case of Tom Lynch, I was con­vinced he could play and knew he could run. He wasn’t an aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing ath­lete or, in the words of a good friend, a “mount­ing yard spe­cial”.

Where Sam Gilbert or Rhys Stan­ley would glide across the ground, Tom was a lit­tle flat-footed.

Upon be­ing drafted in 2008, Tom had made it known that he was set­ting his sights on a Round 1 de­but. Ross per­ceived this as ar­ro­gance,

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