The AFL finals remain a distant dream that St Kilda dare not entertain, despite their thrilling upset win over top side Geelong.
Saturday night’s three-point win over the Cats at Etihad Stadium means the Saints join Port Adelaide, Melbourne and Richmond two games behind eighth-placed West Coast.
St Kilda have the worst percentage of those four teams and so remain in 12th position on the ladder, but the developing team have a winnable away game next Saturday against Gold Coast.
While St Kilda beat Geelong with finals-like intensity, coach Alan Richardson noted it was only three weeks since Adelaide mauled them by 88 points.
“We’re not going to lift our eyes and look that far ahead,” Richardson said of September.
“We just want to play good, consistent footy.”
The far more immediate priority is performing well on the road against the Suns.
St Kilda are yet to win interstate this season, with West Coast thrashing them by 103 points at Subiaco and then the big Crows loss in Adelaide.
“The first thing we did was we spoke about it after the game – it’s something we haven’t done well,” Richardson said of their travel.
But the Saints also relished their best win since Richardson started coaching them three years ago – and even since the near-premiership in 2010.
It was particularly pleasing because after leading by 31 points in the second term, the Saints almost lost their way.
Geelong hit the front in the third quarter and again in the last, before Jade Gresham submitted his contender for goal of the year and Jack Steven scored accurately to put the Saints ahead.
The Saints then defended grimly for the last five minutes.
“To respond a couple of times was really pleasing – that was the facet of our game and the performance that was most pleasing,” Richardson said.
Richardson admitted he was pleased a couple of contentious umpiring decisions in the frenetic last few minutes went their way.
In particular, Geelong key forward Tom Hawkins did not win a free when he fell over in a marking contest.
“It could have gone either way … it went the play-on call, which I’m very pleased with,” he said.
But the Saints also held their nerve, with captain Nick Riewoldt taking a saving mark in the last couple of minutes.
Richardson praised midfielder Seb Ross’s best-afield performance as an example of what St Kilda are trying to achieve.
Ross went head to head with Patrick Dangerfield and, while the Cats star was again prolific, the young Saint was outstanding.
“It builds on the message and builds on the belief in the way we want to play,” Richardson said of the win.
“Ross v Dangerfield is a good example of that – Sebby is building his career.
“That is almost symbolic of the way we wanted to approach the game.”
Richardson praised Nathan Wright, who played out the game despite hurting his shoulder early.
Wright’s right arm was in a sling post-match.