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,