“Football has a funny way of evolving.”
“I can still remember when Robert Harvey, Nathan Burke and Stewart Loewe left St Kilda. It just moved on so quickly that I almost forgot what it was like when they were there. I’ve got my head around [the fact] that’s what happens in AFL football. The fans hold on to certain things but as a player and a club… If you look back at last year you miss what’s in front of you.”
Thanks to all the Saints fans for the support you have shown me and the club over the last 12 years. Will forever be grateful.
— Nick Dal Santo (@NickDalSanto) October 18, 2013
As St Kilda fans struggle to prepare for life without Nick Dal Santo, North Melbourne’s newest recruit says his old teammates won’t take long to adjust to his absence. Players moving on – either into retirement or other clubs – are nothing new, and while Dal Santo suspects free agency “will become a little bit more relaxed in years to come”, it’s not there just yet.
He describes discussions with former-teammates who left the Saints in recent years as comforting, but not all that helpful.
“I kept in touch with BJ (Brendon Goddard) after last year,” says Dal Santo.
“I touched base with him and had a little bit of a chat. I also spoke with Luke Ball, who I’m still really good mates with, just about the process. I’d never thought about leaving St Kilda so to even contemplate what it looked like and life after St Kilda, it was good to touch base with those guys. But in saying that, it didn’t make it any easier.”
Having played 260 games in 12 seasons at the club, leaving was always going to be difficult. In the end, knowing it was the best option for both him and the Saints helped him make the decision.
“Where St Kilda’s at and where I was at as an individual within that club has probably led to this point, and then a mutual agreement – as has been well publicised – to go separate ways,” he says.
“I feel it’s the best thing for myself at this stage of my football career, and also St Kilda gets the compensation and goes in their direction. I have no ill-feeling about the process that’s gone on for the last three weeks.”
Given the Saints are rebuilding and the Kangaroos will soon be entering a premiership window, if all goes to plan, some would suggest the decision was a no brainer. But it certainly didn’t feel that way to the three-time All Australian.
“I was away on holidays with my wife for three weeks. I’m normally a pretty laidback guy, and I wasn’t sleeping very well for quite a while,” he explains.
“[The club] is something that I hold dear. It’s been my whole adult life.”
In 2012 Dal Santo’s teammate Brendon Goddard became the face of free agency. Dal Santo “saw first-hand the amount of speculation and media pressure that it puts on a person,” only to find himself in the same position a year later.
He knows some St Kilda supporters will be upset with his departure, but insists the game is better with free agency than without it.
“I can understand the fans and the public’s questioning of it because when it doesn’t work out in your favour it can hurt a little bit,” he says.
“I can understand the fans and the public’s questioning of it because when it doesn’t work out in your favour it can hurt a little bit” – Dal Santo.
“In saying that, you’d like to think that every club gets a chance to get a free agent and it works in their favour at some stage… As a player we were so focused on having a choice and an option on where you want to play your football, and I thought that was really important – and I still do.”
“I think it’s still a great cause and something I believe in.”
It might be a little while before free agency finds its feet, but Dal Santo is ready to hit the ground running at North Melbourne.
“I think I can add something, on and off the field,” he says.
“I’m excited for next month when pre-season starts and I’m excited for the season coming. To think that I can be here for three years and contribute is something I’m really looking forward to.”