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AFL: Can Ben Dixon help the Saints hit their target?

As we evaluate how each club fared in the AFL Trade period, is it possible that the most important move was the acquisition of man who won't lace up a boot?

Saints look to aim straight

Essendon and Port Adelaide seem to be the consensus pick for the title of ‘winners‘ of the recent AFL trading period with both clubs expected to be the big improvers next year as a result. Despite the unquestioned improvement both teams haul of ready-made players will stimulate, an appointment announced on October 4th by the St Kilda Football Club might have the biggest impact of all off-season movements to date.

After a spirited battle with a number of other clubs, St Kilda announced that they had appointed Ben Dixon in the role of goal kicking coach for season 2018. The 200-game Hawk tasked with the responsibility of turning around the fortunes of the Saints in-front of goal after a year in which they had produced the fifth worst goal kicking percentage of any team in the last decade.

 Speaking with Herald Sun after his appointment, Dixon was extremely bullish about the impact he could have on the team in the new season. “Definitely we will see improvement,” he told Jay Clark. “I’ve got no doubt about that.” With each player required to meet a specific accuracy level at training they will be prepared for the pressure of converting on game day. I’m really confident because the program is structured so it will give every single player their own individual focus and a routine that works for them.”

Bad kicking is bad football

To put the rewards on offer into perspective if Dixon can turn the Saints goal kicking woes around it is necessary to look at what their inaccuracy cost them in 2017. The Saints learned painfully the truth of the old adage ‘bad kicking is bad football’ with the team kicking goals from just 45.5% of scoring opportunity while the competition average was 53.3%. That level of unreliability in front of the sticks put paid to any hopes the men from Seaford had of a return to the finals after five years in the wilderness. To understand how costly was it was, take a look at the 2017 AFL Ladder and what it would have looked like if the Saints had the same number of opportunities but converted them at the competition average.

Admittedly, it’s not a very scientific measure, but it goes a long way in illustrating the fine line between success and failure in today’s AFL Competition. It shows that the Saints, widely considered a failure in 2017, created scoring opportunities equal to or better than sides that played finals this season. It also shows that while they may not have landed the big fish they were after during the exchange period, they still may have gained a much-needed building block for their future success.

Dixon targets improvements across the field

It won’t just be the forwards put through the new programme, with Dixon keen to ensure that every player is ready to step up when called upon.  “Every player needs to be confident in their own routine because you never know when the next big opportunity to have a shot is going to present itself,” he told the Herald Sun’s Jay Clark. A quick look at some of the key men expected to be going through the Saints midfield in 2018, you can see the new coach has the opportunity to make an immediate and massive impact.

It would appear that Dixon will be provided with all the tools he needs to work his magic too. “Accuracy in front of goal was a clear weakness of ours in 2017,” Jamie Cox, St Kilda ‘s General Manager of Football Performance, explained in announcing Dixon’s appointment. “We went through a thorough review of all areas of our performance at the end of the season and identified the opportunity to increase our resources in regards to goalkicking.”

Goalkicking program to provide tangible metrics

The resources on offer wasn’t lost on Dixon either. “I’m super impressed with Alan Richardson and his team that it has become a priority now,” he enthused. “I’m excited that they’ve really bought into how important it is, because they have brought all the divisions together, from high performance to coaching, to make it work.”

It should ensure that we can measure the accuracy of comments he made midyear about the value a goal kicking programme could bring to an AFL team. “Any club which doesn’t have proper goal kicking programs, I have got no doubt whatsoever it would deliver unbelievable results,” he told Jay Clark in June. What he said next might also be of interest to the bean counters at St Kilda. “And if it doesn’t, I’m confident enough to say they shouldn’t pay for it.

The Saints will be hoping that there will be no need to investigate Dixon’s ‘money back guarantee’ because if he can deliver on his promises, a sudden charge up the ladder in 2018 is not out of the question. If he can deliver on his promises, it will be hard to dispute his acquisition being the biggest move of this offseason.

Will Dixon have an impact on St Kilda’s goalkicking woes? Comment below to share your thoughts.

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Matthew Boyle

For Matthew, a childhood spent in the backyard trying match the exploits of Tony Lockett, Dean Jones, and Peter Sterling has led to a lifelong love affair with sport.

A fan of sports of all kinds, Matthew is at his happiest watching, talking or writing about the events on taking place on the sporting fields around the world.

When Matthew isn't sharing his views on AFL and NRL with the RealSport101.com readership, you can read his weekly Parra Post Mortem or Saints Summary on The Sportress (www.sportress.wordpress.com), or you can hear him as one-half of the podcast The Pinch Hitters with Boz and Pav.

AFL: Can Ben Dixon help the Saints hit their target?

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