MELBOURNE – St Kilda veteran Lenny Hayes will play on next AFL season, but Stephen Milne will join Justin Koschitzke and Jason Blake in retirement.
The Saints confirmed the futures of the four veterans yesterday, after their first win in two months, a 17.14 (116) to 10.10 (70) victory over a disappointing Gold Coast at Etihad Stadium.
The retiring trio will play a farewell game against Fremantle at the same venue next Saturday, although Koschitzke’s selection for what would be his 200th game is dependent on him recovering sufficiently from a calf injury.
The club’s senior core led the way yesterday, captain Nick Riewoldt outstanding with 15 marks and four goals, Milne also snaring four majors and Leigh Montagna (33 disposals, three goals) and Nick Dal Santo (31 disposals, one goal) also keys.
The victory was a rare bright spot in a season in which the Saints are set to record their fewest wins in more than a decade.
They’ve also had to deal in recent months with rape charges being laid against Milne, over a 2004 case, while fellow small forward Ahmed Saad is serving a provisional suspension after testing positive for a banned substance.
Watters said yesterday’s win was welcome reward for his players, after decent efforts against classier opposition in recent weeks.
The coach is delighted that Hayes is staying on, saying his experience and example is enormously valuable.
“You can’t buy that,” Watters said.
“In 16 seasons there’s so much knowledge he needs to impart, but most importantly he can still play the game.”
Hayes said retirement had crossed his mind, but he had committed after satisfying himself both that the club still valued him and that his body could handle a full preseason.
“I love being around the place and I can see so many exciting signs in some of these young guys,” the 33-year-old 276-gamer said.
He expected the clash with the Dockers to be an emotional day.
“Every time you run out there you obviously want to win,” Hayes said.
“But when three guys of the calibre of those three are potentially playing their last game I think there is a bit of a different feel to it.”
Watters also urged Saints supporters to come out to farewell three players he said had been wonderful team men.
He rates Milne one of the best small forwards to have ever played, but said the retirement decision of the 33-year-old, who has kicked 572 goals in 274 games, had nothing to do with his coming legal fight.
“He just felt like he hasn’t been able to contribute consistently at the high level that he has for a long time,” Watters said.
Clinton Jones and Stephen Milne of the Saints celebrate their win with fans during the round 22 AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Gold Coast Suns at Etihad Stadium on August 25. Picture: Getty Images.
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