Saints academy excites McPhee
Saints academy excites McPhee

When St Kilda academy manager Simon McPhee walked into his office on Monday, two crucial pieces of information told vastly different tales.

The first was that almost half of his academy played in the AFL the previous day. The problem was the second showed the Saints lost to Geelong by 96 points.

McPhee is into his third year at the Saints after leading Claremont to the 2011 premiership. He originally joined the Saints as coach of the club's VFL affiliate, Sandringham.

From there he became the development coach and, after being interviewed for the senior coaching job last year, was appointed as the head of the Saints Player Academy.

The Saints are in rebuilding mode. Only 16 players remain from Ross Lyon's era and four of them had played less than 10 games when the grand final coach left to join Fremantle at the end of the 2011 season.

The Saints have snared six top-25 draft picks in the past three years. The on-field results haven't been pretty, and the team is on the bottom of the ladder with three wins and a percentage of 58.6. It's why the academy is so vital.

McPhee, former Hawthorn forward Paul Hudson, ex-Western Bulldogs defender Lindsay Gilbee and recently appointed female development coach Peta Searle are attempting to fast track St Kilda's first-to-third-year players.

"It's exciting being involved in it (the academy) but there is a huge responsibility that we get it right," McPhee said.

McPhee is a very busy man. At the academy there are individual skills sessions, video sessions, accelerated learning sessions and line meetings to review games. He also still coaches Sandringham in the VFL. The Zebras beat Collingwood last weekend and are sixth with five wins and a draw from nine games.

McPhee has big plans for the academy.

"I'll go around Australia and the world and make sure the St Kilda academy is the best it can be. I'm hoping to get to Europe because soccer has done it very well," he said.

"They get them from an early age, so it's slightly different. If we can pick up things to teach better, then we've got to have a look."

While developing the next wave of Saints is crucial, McPhee said winning matches remained a high priority.

But he believed there were still enormous gains to come from thrashings like last weekend, which featured 14 players yet to play 40 games.

He said Seb Ross, drafted at pick 25 in 2011, stood out with 28 possessions in just his 19th game.

"For him to have quite a significant game under trying circumstances says a lot about him and where he's going," McPhee said.

St Kilda host West Coast at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

When McPhee arrives at work on Monday he knows one stats column will say the team had plenty of academy players. He's hoping the other column says they performed and the team won.

The West Australian

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