IT was far from the ideal end to the 2019 Western Border football season for Millicent on Saturday.
The Saints made the tough road trip to Vansittart Park to face minor premier North Gambier and the Tigers did not hold back.
A scoreless opening term spelt disaster early on, before Millicent managed to add 1.4 in the following two quarters.
It was two late goals and a behind in the fourth which prevented the Saints from a 98-point thrashing, with the final margin a slightly more respectable 85 points.
It is a rare occurrence for the reigning premiers to be left win-less in their title defending season, but that has become the reality for the Saints.
While they did manage a couple of close results against top teams, the cookie never crumbled in their favour.
Millicent playing coach Lyndon Smith said it had been a tough year, with the large list of outs over the off-season only further burdened by injuries and player unavailability.
As a result, the Saints’ youth has often been looked to and if there is one positive to take from 2019, it is the development of the future stars of the club.
“I think there are probably 13 different Under 18’s who had a taste this year,” Smith said.
“They are all going to be about 10 games better off for next year.”
While the pre-season recruitment period failed to fill the holes of the premiership players who had left, the Bradley brothers have been a beacon of light in troubled times.
The pair came across from Hatherleigh at the start of the year and have been consistent performers all season, playing alongside cousin Zac Bradley – another rising talent of the club.
Smith said Frazer may take his football to the next level in Adelaide in 2020, but if he does remain with the Saints he will be one to watch again.
Saturday’s game was a tough way to cap off 2019, with the wooden spoon the only reward for the Saints.
“It can be hard to find motivation for the players when not playing finals, especially in that last round,” Smith said.
“Obviously you want to finish on a high, but it was not to be.
“In the second half they just really got the run on and played the brand of football they wanted to play – North is a well-drilled outfit.”
Kade Bradley earned the best-on-ground honours for Millicent, with his usual class and hard work rate, while Dylan Tincknell – another standout for the year – was close behind.
Frazer Bradley, Smith, Sam Willis and Finn Grimes also made the list.
One highlight of the past few rounds has been the move of Saints veteran defender Steve Duldig into the forward line.
Smith said it was the team’s way of rewarding him for a successful career, with Duldig expected to hang up his boots – at least in the A Grade scene.
“He is a tremendous footballer and person, so we thought we would reward him and put him up there,” Smith said.
“With Dylan Bromley and Peter Duncan going down with injury and a few others, we were clutching a bit for some tall men.
“We thought we would flip him up forward for him to finish his career off.”
Smith said Duldig may play Reserves in 2020, but the 40-year-old appears to have finished off his A-Grade career.
However, that was expected to be the case after the 2018 premiership and he returned to the side this year, so time will tell.
Returning premiership coach Clint Gallio is expected back in early October and from there the ball will begin rolling.
Smith said the group knew it was facing a tough task heading into this season, but the results have only fuelled the motivation for next year.
“We are pretty optimistic about it all looking to next year,” he said.
“If all the ducks line up, we know we are not too far off the mark.
“We do not need too many more players, providing we hold onto the list from this year – touch wood injury free and fully available.
“There were only three games really where it was evident we were behind the eight ball.”
There is no doubt a more-competitive Millicent will take to the Western Border stage next year and the Saints will be hungry to return to their former glory.