Of all the off-season signings, none raised as many eyebrows as St Kilda’s recruitment of Dan Hannebery.
At the conclusion of 2018, Hannebery looked completely cooked. He struggled through the Swans only finals appearance – his was a gutsy effort amid a meek capitulation to their cross-town rivals, and he limped into the break looking like he’d been in a car accident. At 28 years old, he appeared a man many years his senior, with limbs, shoulders and occasionally his head strapped due to the numerous injuries he endured over his tenure in Sydney.
Still, the Saints saw an opportunity to take a risk, and they took it, signing Hannebery to a four year deal, with the option of a fifth. It was gutsy – I’ll give them that. They took a real gamble on the health of Hannebery, and their own 2018 form indicated they needed to do something to appease a fanbase in need of something to instill hope. But with the benefit of hindsight, you could argue that the Saints needed someone pumping the brakes a little instead of speeding toward what is looking like the edge of a recruitment cliff.
As we enter Round Two of the season, and with coach Alan Richardson speculating we won’t see Hannebery until well after Round Four, it begs the question – what in the hell were St Kilda thinking?
Signing a post-prime Hannebery, on significant money, may be one of the all-time recruiting blunders. In 2015, having a player the likes of Hannebery on your list would’ve been a blessing. At 30 disposals per game, he was as damaging and ferocious as any midfielder in the game. His combination with Josh Kennedy and Kieren Jack made up a trilogy of ball-winning hard men in the Harbour City that formed the nucleus of a consistent, contested midfield machine.
Oh yes – he was also 24 years old.
But as we ticked into 2018, the machine wasn’t just slowing down; it was falling apart.
All three of the Sydney midfield stalwarts saw their numbers plummet over the past couple of seasons, with even the ultra-consistent Kennedy experiencing a significant decline. Father Time was knocking on the door of the Sydney midfield, and the Swans’ hierarchy were pretty keen to answer. No one wants to see a favourite son decline so rapidly, but that’s what the Swans were faced with three times over. As the season wore on, the knocking got too loud to ignore.
Powerhouse Swans disposal averages 2016-18
There was different knock at the door late in 2018, however, and on this occasion, Sydney rushed to answer it.
Enter the St Kilda Football Club.
The Saints threw a bucket of cash at the broken down Hannebery, and the Swans wished him well as he accepted the offer. It was a win-win for the Swans and their three-time All-Australian.
But what a loss it could prove to the Saints.
When questioned about Sydney’s willingness to let him walk, Hannebery said they were replenishing their list – “it’s what good teams do,” he added. It was a strange comment – as though Hannebery knew he had little left to give a club that required more. And do his comments also indicate that picking up a player past his prime for way more money than he’s worth is what a dumb team does? It’s a stretch, but the implication was there if you wanted to find it.
Damian Barrett has been like a dog with a bone with the Hannebery story, alleging that the new Saint “had a good off-season” in an obvious swipe at Hannebery’s extra-curricular activities. He also claimed on his podcast that Swans officials “fell off their chairs” when they were informed of Hannebery’s elevation to the St Kilda leadership group, effectively questioning both Hannebery’s capacity to lead, and St Kilda’s ability to make a decision pertaining to the leaders within their own playing group.
His scoffing was somewhat justified yesterday, when Hannebery stepped down from the St Kilda leadership group without playing a game, and after just one game of the AFL season. There were claims that he wanted to focus on rehabilitation from the injuries that suddenly seem a hell of a lot more concerning than they did a couple of months ago when Saints coach, Alan Richardson declared Hanners as “good to go”.
How was he so misinformed? How was he good to go back in the pre-season and so far off the pace now? Good to go to rehab, maybe?
In an interview with Melbourne radio station, SEN, Richardson claimed that the Saints will have to rebuild the broken down Hannebery, who has been unable to handle the increase in workload after not being able to put the work in over several seasons.
“Did we think it was going to be as significant as this?” asked Richardson rhetorically. “No, we didn’t.”
So the question that leaps to mind for me, and I am sure thousands of St Kilda supporters – why the hell didn’t you do your due diligence? Did you see this bloke strapped up like an Egyptian mummy for most of the past couple of seasons? Those bandages and tape weren’t decorative.
Used car salesmen would love to see the Saints recruiters wandering into their lots. You don’t walk into a car yard, kick a few tyres and purchase a car because it used to run well a few years ago, do you? You don’t put the key in the ignition, start it and have the car stutter and putter and think “Oh, well I’m sure it’ll run okay once I get it home and change the oil, do you?
There are no anti-lemon laws for AFL players. Do your damn homework!
Richardson went on to reveal that whenever the workload is upped, Hannebery’s legs fail him.
“It’s all of the above (calves, hamstrings)”, said Richardson. “He’s had two years where he just hasn’t been able to put in the work.”
That’s the sort of thing that happens to me when the workload is upped – I’m 46 years old!
It doesn’t sound like a wise investment for 4-5 years to me. A bloke who’s been unable to train at the ultra-professional and successful Sydney Swans is going to get offered a 4-5 year deal with a team that, truthfully, sounds like it doesn’t know what it’s doing – where can I get one of these deals in relation to my work? I was pretty good at it a few years ago.
Back to the point on the leadership group.
I am a big believer that where there’s smoke there’s fire. We’ve heard all pre-season about what a great influence Hannebery was going to be on this young St Kilda team, and how he’d bring so much to the table in terms of experience and how he carries himself.
Has this now changed? Is it some amazing coincidence that meetings for the St Kilda leadership group clash with the only times available for Hannebery to rehab his broken body? Something’s up here – it just doesn’t sit right, does it?
You don’t remove someone from your leadership group, particularly someone brought in mainly for his leadership, because he’s injured. If anything, now would be the time when his voice, his encouragement and his experience would be the most vital to his teammates. Now would be the time when his presence within that group would add plenty…
… if in fact leadership was what he was providing to begin with.
Following the Saints acquisition of Hannebery, I openly questioned the move. I didn’t think this was a wise step by the Saints at all. I’ve not seen many players deteriorate as quickly as Hannebery did from 2016-2018, yet the Saints obviously saw… something.
But what was it they saw? History? Hope? A mirage?
The St Kilda Footy Club has made a mistake here, and sadly, I feel like Alan Richardson will pay for it. In his SEN interview, he didn’t say anything to indicate it but I got the distinct feeling he wasn’t the biggest fan of the move to acquire Hannebery. I think he knew it was a road to nowhere, and that’s exactly where they’ve ended up.
Saints supporters have every right to be upset with the recruitment of Hannebery. While the ‘smart’ Swans sit back and watch a man who was once so vital to their structure flounder and struggle to get on the park with the ‘dumb’ Saints, it will be interesting to see which St Kilda honcho puts his hand up as the architect of this crumbling move.
My guess is they’ll point to Alan Richardson and he’ll take the fall. Coaches always do. The writing has been on the wall for him for a while now, anyway. This will just be convenient. The only thing that would have expedited the process was a Round One loss to the Suns, and we were a bad Peter Wright decision away from seeing that come to fruition.
The Hannebery experiment will continue for the foreseeable future. The Saints have at least four years of this ongoing issue to deal with. They have four years of dealing with a man whose body is falling apart weekly, and are stuck trying to tape it back together in order to get through games.
They’ll have their docs, their physios, osteos, and hell… even bring in a mechanic if they think it’ll help, but the problem is, they bought the first car available without taking it for a test drive. Now they’re paying the price.
“The problem is… to some extent, he needs to be rebuilt,” concluded Richardson.
Much like the club he is now listed with.
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