If fans needed any further proof that veteran AFL coach Ross Lyon is a new man in 2023, they need look no further than Sunday's wholesome incident with a young St Kilda fan. Lyon's surprise ladder-leaders continued their superb start to the season with a 22-point win over Carlton at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.
The 12.10 (82) to 8.12 (60) win over the Blues means St Kilda are top of the table and dreaming of finals footy in 2023, despite their coach's attempts to dampen those increasingly lofty expectations. However, it was a lovely exchange involving a young St Kilda fan after the game that left AFL commentators and fans convinced that it was a much changed Lyon at the helm in 2023.
'DOESN'T MAKE SENSE': AFL slammed over Thursday night footy call
When the former Fremantle mentor was appointed for a second stint as coach of the Saints before the season, it sparked plenty of scrutiny about whether the 56-year-old was the right man to lead the club back to where its long-suffering fans wanted it to be. Most can agree that Lyon has already gone some way to proving the critics wrong after transforming his side's fortunes in 2023.
However, it was the coach's interaction with a young fan after the win over the Blues that caught the eyes of many observers. Lyon had already attempted a high-five with one supporter while walking onto the ground after St Kilda's win, when he stopped to hand a packet of CC's corn chips to a young supporter.
The young boy smiled for the cameras as he held his bizarre gift from Lyon aloft, with fans and commentators loving the wholesome moment involving the Saints coach. AFL greats Cameron Mooney and Dermott Brereton made light of the incident on Fox Footy’s First Crack, with both men agreeing Lyon seemed like a much more mellow version of the coach who last led the Dockers in 2019.
🚨 THIS IS NOT A DRILL 🚨
Ross gave away his winning CC’s packet to a lucky fan! pic.twitter.com/JJScsVwG9F
— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) April 23, 2023
Mooney joked Lyon had “never done anything like that in his life”, and Brereton chimed in by insisting the St Kilda boss had “never been so friendly” before. St Kilda great Leigh Montagna also paid credit to the coach and club president Andrew Bassat for making the tough call to replace former coach Brett Ratten with Lyon.
— Shane McInnes (@shanemcinnes) April 23, 2023
“The decision to appoint Ross Lyon – it came with a lot of baggage,” Montagna said on Fox Footy. “There was a lot of heat on Andrew Bassat and that footy club, we know it was a brutal call, it was a courageous call.
“But I think now we can say it was the right call – and the proof is now in the pudding. Andrew Bassat had some sleepless nights and there would’ve been a lot of people to jump down the club’s throat if it didn’t go well at the start … And to be fair, there were some cynical fans.
“A lot of St Kilda fans were divided about the return of Ross Lyon and whether his game plan was too defensive and the way that he left the club. But even those fans are now all on the same page and we’ve got a club that is united and on the same page.
“They’ve created a high-performance environment, which the club have craved, and they’re making the whole football club proud.”
St Kilda top after superb start to 2023
Defence has been a hallmark of Lyon's coaching career and his current team is no exception, with the Saints conceding an average of just 59.5 points per game this season. While expectations have steadily increased after being low heading into the season, the veteran coach is refusing to get swept up in talk about finals footy in 2023.
"We don't set any long-term goals," Lyon said. "It's self-evident in the AFL, everyone's trying to play finals otherwise you shouldn't be in. We're pretty level, it's six weeks in."
In a major plus for the Saints, they should only grow stronger the longer the season goes as they regain more players from the injury list. Versatile forward Tim Membrey was lively early in his first game of the season, but captain Jack Steele looked well below his brilliant best after returning from a broken collarbone suffered against the Western Bulldogs in round two.
St Kilda have a five-day turnaround before hosting Port Adelaide next Friday night, while the Blues fly to Perth to face struggling West Coast on Saturday night.
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