One year ago, the St Kilda football club and its fans had just completed and witnessed their most successful home-and-away season since its establishment in 1873. Despite consecutive narrow losses to lesser opposition in Rounds 20 and 21, a solid win in the final match meant Saints fans’ could enter September with a renewed confidence.
It would be a September to remember for Saints fans, but one ultimately of heartbreak. Missed opportunities on Grand Final day saw Geelong run over the success-starved club in the final minutes of the epic encounter, and a premiership that had seemed so close throughout 2009 had been lost.
Fast forward one year, and the Saints have been shaken around quite a lot on their way to comfortably finishing in third place in a rearranged top four from the previous season.
It started with Luke Ball walking out on the club and the Andrew Lovett saga in a tumultuous off-season. A NAB Cup Final appearance was only able to yield another losing Final, and repeated the 1996/97/98 respective placings of pre-season premiers, minor premiers and losing Grand Finalists, and pre-season runners-up.
In Round 3, the season looked set to be a struggle when Nick Riewoldt went down with his serious hamstring injury, particularly when losses in three out of four matches soon after questioned the Saints’ worth as a team.
Another off-field distraction in the form of questions about a teenage schoolgirl’s past with two players, and some major splutterings after Riewoldt’s return were batted away by the Saints. The full-ground defence and pressure hasn’t been as consistent nor convincing. Teams have kicked higher scores against the Saints more regularly. The Saints arrive in September 2010 by no means favourites for the premiership, but they are definitely a realistic chance to break that drought.
It’s the unpredictability of finals that will bring such a range of emotions to all supporters involved over the next month. For St Kilda fans, last year’s heartbreak may be followed by a magical ride this time around, with moments to rival and maybe better Riewoldt’s heroics in the preliminary final against the Bulldogs, or it could all end in the shattering way that 1998 did – the last time St Kilda came off a runners-up season – in successive defeats.
Above all, however, September will be difficult. This whole season has been difficult. It wasn’t and it’s not going to be anything else after St Kilda lost a Grand Final in the way they did in 2009. But we’ve arrived at the finals again, and as Saints fans learnt so well last year, anything can happen.