When St Kilda coach Alan Richardson stood in front of his players before training on Friday the mood was light until they switched into serious discussion about the game.
Jokes about Jack Steele's tackling prowess were made as they spoke with confidence how to play top-of-the-table Geelong on Saturday night at GMHBA Stadium.
With the team two games and percentage out of the eight and just seven matches left, the Saints remain merely a mathematical chance of playing finals after losing their past three.
Richardson hasn't conceded that fact but admits they have "a lot of work" in front of them to make the eight, a feat which would have given him a good argument to retain his job regardless of any triggers in his contract that would reportedly mean his contract is automatically extended if the Saints won a final.
The situation has led to his future being openly discussed and every visual – such as the football manager Simon Lethlean pulling up a chair beside him in the coaches box last Sunday in Hobart – being interpreted as a sign as to what lies ahead that is as meaningful as Brian's discarded shoe in Monty Python's Life of Brian.
More importantly it's put the Saints and their coach in the twilight zone as few outside the club expect him to remain as coach but no-one inside the club is either prepared to – or able to depending on the contract terms – declare their hand in the way Carlton and North Melbourne did when they moved on Brendon Bolton and Brad Scott.
That's what has made watching Richardson's performance under the fiercest of pressure so intriguing.
His grace in batting away questions about his future without appearing overly defensive, and his ability to remain upbeat with his players and staff in the face of more losses than he'd have liked, has shown why he is a respected person in the industry.
Not once has he complained despite his players missing for a range of reasons not even Nostradamus could have predicted, his temperament giving the club hope that the bottom will not fall out despite enough speculation occurring for Richardson to admit he felt the need to do a temperature check with his players with three poor quarters in which the Saints conceded 23 of the 50 goals they have conceded in the past three matches.
"I have had a chat to a couple of the leaders just to get a sense as to whether that noise is affecting anything but given that the group is still playing – while we're frustrated with [occasional poor] quarters – pretty strong competitive 'for the footy club' sort of footy, it hasn't been the issue," Richardson said.
"I know what my focus is and I am really confident their focus is on doing whatever they can to get our season back on track by playing four quarters of footy."
The players have spent the week making commitments to each other about the way they want to play after conceding eight of the first nine goals against North Melbourne and Richardson has maintained faith they can upset Geelong to keep things interesting given his coaching career has been comparable to recent performances with one below year in the past four puttiRead More – Source