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Why St Kilda's second appointment of Ross Lyon is a massive gamble

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BACK TO THE future? Forward to the past? The one snappy line you can utter with certainty about Ross Lyon's reappointment as St Kilda coach is that the Saints certainly do things their own way.

Not for them slavish devotion to contemporary football fashion. That would have dictated a far more comprehensive process to select a replacement for the sacked Brett Ratten.

Indeed, many things about the lead-up to and execution of Lyon's second coming at Moorabbin smacked of a decidedly, and one might even suggest defiantly, retro feel.

Like, for example, the stories emerging from former St Kilda president Lindsay Fox's 85th birthday bash on a luxury cruise from New York to Montreal some five weeks ago, the pow wows on it involving Fox, another St Kilda patron Gerry Ryan, current president Andrew Bassat and the ubiquitous Eddie McGuire, and where the "get Ross back" campaign more than likely emerged.

If that sort of yarn isn't "old school" enough for you, how about the recent installations of crusty old administrator Geoff Walsh as new St Kilda football manager and as chief executive Simon Leathlean, a former AFL golden boy forced out of the league five years ago after the exposing of an affair with a more junior staffer.

And in a particularly sensitive time culturally for AFL football, given other stories still unfolding, there is also significant fodder in the backdrop of an incident involving Lyon and a former female employee at Fremantle, the subject of a non-disclosure agreement.

All that's missing here from a full-on 1980s style VFL football re-enactment might well be some peroxide tips, the theme for "Miami Vice" and some drunken player antics at the Moorabbin "Saints Disco".

None of which is to suggest that Lyon the coach is a relic of the 1980s. Indeed, whatever impact the last few unsuccessful years in which he had charge of Fremantle had on his reputation, few would dispute his very contemporary level of detailed knowledge of what makes teams and players tick.

What has become clear, though, even in the matter of days since his return to St Kilda is just how dramatically Lyon polarises opinion, and how dramatically different are various predictions about how his second stint with the Saints will pan out.

Yet on that score, even Lyon's biggest detractors would have to concede the difference in perceptions about him is, in an on-field sense at least, a very fine line.

As if he'd be subject to anything like the same level of scepticism now about his game style, let alone various personal foibles, were it not for a toe-poke, a funny bounce of the ball and some Freo conversion jitters? After all, it's pretty hard to pick a bone with a three-time premiership coach.

So why is the Saints' renewed faith in their old coach still such a massive gamble? Because there is no doubt the landscape, as Lyon himself acknowledged on Monday, has changed dramatically even since he departed the Dockers in 2019.

Attack is back. Scoring is up, ball movement freer. That immediately heightens the pressure on Lyon's proven coaching strong suit, suffocating defence.

The extent to which Lyon can embrace different playing patterns, not to mention a less naturally talented list, is a big "if" for me about his second stint with the Saints. And even he can't really know the answer to that question until the pre-season arrives and his good intentions are put under the heat of real game simulation and training.

Perhaps, though, the extent to which Lyon can bear to delegate and not micro-manage every detail, and to regulate the intensity of his relationships with his assistants, is an even bigger "if".

A few eyebrows were raised by Lyon's comments on Monday about not having analysed the current St Kilda list, as he hadn't previously at either the Saints or Fremantle, the rationale that with the right people in place, the parts of the engine could be adjusted and results achieved quickly.

The dramatic results St Kilda requires, though? I certainly believe Lyon got the best out of what he had at his disposal with the Saints first time around, a comment on the strength then of his system versus individual talent.

And yet ... was the difference in the end in those losing Grand Finals of 2009 and 2010 inferior talent at the bottom end of the 22 versus that possessed by opponents Geelong and Collingwood? I think there's a fair argument it was.

Everyone has their own views on Lyon, and mine, admittedly, have been blemished a little by those last few seasons at Fremantle, firstly, that ridiculous tumble from top-of-the-ladder with 18 wins in 2015 to 16th with just four wins the very next season. No amount of injuries can excuse a cataclysmic collapse of that nature.

I never felt Lyon really bought 100% into that so-called rebuild at Fremantle post that season, either.

For all the introductions of the likes of Brennan Cox, Sean Darcy, Griffin Logue and Luke Ryan, there were as many who came and went quickly, weren't given consistent games, and there was still the recruitment of the older likes of Cam McCarthy, Shane Kersten and Harley Bennell.

Much of the coverage of Monday's press conference at St Kilda focussed on the fluff rather than the substance, critiquing Lyon's apparent metamorphosis into a more media-friendly character due to his television and radio roles.

That had a 1980s type feel about it, too, an army of media people and mates with the protagonists enjoying their acquaintance and not wanting to rock the boat too much. Which, of course, they won't have to if the Lyon gambit delivers for St Kilda.

It will be a fascinating watch. But it goes without saying there's at least one 1980s comparison the Saints will be desperate to avoid. And if your recollection of St Kilda's history isn't too clear, yes, it's results, the only one that ultimately really matters.