After Hawthorn ran St Kilda out of the MCG by five goals in Round 8, the Saints found themselves 15th on the ladder, two points behind AFL newcomers Gold Coast and looking down upon only two teams.
The Saints were 22 points adrift of leaders Geelong and 18 behind the team who only eight months earlier were equal with St Kilda on that day in September. Collingwood were now the preeminent side in the competition and St Kilda were nothing.
Then, even without its on-field leader, even without Lenny Hayes, St Kilda were not out of finals consideration. With strong coaching, St Kilda went on to win 11 of its last 15, securing a finals spot with one round to play.
But on the heels of Ross Lyon's greatest triumph as Saints coach, at the point where demands for his skills were at their peak and expectations that he would return for at least one more year were 100 percent in both the hearts and minds of every Saints fan—courtesy of supposed words out of his very own mouth—Lyon's resignation as St Kilda coach felt like more than just a mere stab in the back to those who don red, white and black in their souls every winter.
Lyon attacked the virtues of loyalty and integrity and wrote his own script as to how things ought to be done.
Lyon deceived almost everyone close to him, from Saints players and management to his own management firm.
Of course, Lyon had every right to seek greener pastures.
Leigh Matthews' argument that it would make Lyon's defection worse if he left because he saw a better chance for a premiership at Fremantle is a poor one. Lyon has always been a coach to demand the best of himself and his players; his ambition to win a flag is a vital part of who he is. It is what made him, after Allan Jeans, the most successful coach ever at St Kilda.
If Lyon wanted to leave, whether for money or for premierships or for a new start, it is entirely his right.
Moreover, Lyon has every right to feel disrespected by the St Kilda board. St Kilda should have offered Lyon the contract he deserved months earlier.
"Fremantle professionally were able to lock and load a four-year term that had satisfied me within 72 hours, in comparison to six months (St Kilda took)," Lyon said in a press conference on Friday (via the Herald Sun).
Lyon is and should be angry at St Kilda management.
But after five years proudly wearing the St Kilda badge, after five years espousing fortitude along with fidelity on his chest, Lyon spat in the faces of the 30,000 members and countless other supporters who gave him more than just a chance to prove his talent. Lyon had a level of unconditional adulation that is unheard of in sports for a coach with zero flags. It is a level reserved at Seaford for Allan Jeans.
Even if the club would welcome Lyon back with open arms, it will never be possible to repair the heartbreak Saints fans around the globe feel. It will never be possible for Lyon to be viewed as anything less than a traitor.
And Lyon just doesn't get that.
"I sit here very comfortable with my integrity and my honour. I didn't solicit any offers. I was approached and engaged, and because of the circumstances it happened."
But integrity is not just not seeking out a job. Integrity isn't just between employee and employer.
Lyon shattered the band between fan and coach, between a leader and his team—and he did it in a deceitful and dishonest way that is impossible to forgive. To leave one day after giving his assurances of returning, when he was actually eleven-twelfths of the way through discussions to flee, is so reprehensible that it is almost impossible to remember anything worthwhile he has done.
And based on his accomplishments, it's sad, because Lyon should be remembered for so much more.
Lyon should be remembered for taking St Kilda to four consecutive finals series, the only man ever to sign documents under a moniker other than Allan Jeans to accomplish such a task.
Lyon should be remembered for getting St Kilda to within an errant bounce of the ball of winning a flag.
Lyon should be remembered for leading St Kilda to three Grand Finals. No man has ever seen the Saints to more.
Lyon should be remembered for turning St Kilda's 2011 season around, for giving his men the confidence that they could still be the team they wanted to be, that they could still earn September football when an early draft pick looked the more obvious wager.
But he'll never be remembered as such, at least not first and foremost.
Ross Lyon has tainted his image and his reputation as a man of integrity. His reputation with the word so frequently and now sarcastically attached to his name is gone.
He may think otherwise and, within the immediate football world, he is right.
But the football world isn't just the few thousand people who earn their pay through the game: It includes the millions who live and die by every bounce of the ball.
The ball bounced Fremantle's way on Thursday and St Kilda supporters will have to accept that. The Saints are not the club they were when the heavens twisted the footy away from Stephen Milne's outstretched arms almost one year ago.
But they should feel angry. They should feel hurt. They should feel deceived. And no amount of time will ever undo Ross Lyon's betrayal. No amount of time will ever restore the dignity and integrity to a man propped on a pedestal of his own mind's creation.
One day Ross Lyon may be forgiven, but not if he continues to ignore the true victims of his deceit.
Not as long as he continues to pretend there's still a thread of integrity anywhere in the purple and white shirt a continent away from Melbourne.
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