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Q&A — Koby Stevens

Since crossing over from the kennel at the end of 2016, Koby Stevens has become a vital cog in St Kilda’s new-look midfield. The 26-year-old took some time out to chat to about his strong start to life with the Saints.

Going back to late last year, you had to make a pretty important decision on your future and your footy career… what was that like to move to a new club again?

It was pretty stressful. At the start of the year my thought process was that I’d stay at the Dogs, I was playing some good footy but then I got injured. There was a contract there for me, but after I got injured that was put on the back-burner, and towards the end of the year I struggled to find fitness and I’d been talking to Richo for a while and it was a hard decision to make, but I feel it was the right one and I’m in a good place at the moment.

What was it about the Saints that intrigued you and made you choose them?

They have a really young and exciting list and I thought they could go places. I didn’t want to leave a team that was on the way up and then go somewhere just to play football, I want to play finals. I feel like I’m in the right place to do that.

Did you have any existing relationships with St Kilda players? Were there any familiar faces when you got here?

Not really. I had met Sam Gilbert a few times and a couple of the other boys but since I’ve been at the club I’ve made some great friendships. The guys have been so inviting.

You went through a tricky period there with the food poisoning issue. A little bit has been written about that, but how much of a toll did it take on your body?

It was an interesting one! I got through a full pre-season and was flying coming into the NAB Challenge and went up to Albury to play in the last pre-season game and I got salmonella poisoning. I actually ended up in hospital for eight days and lost nine kilos and it wrecked me for a good four weeks. I lost a lot of fitness and had to build my body back up and finally got back into the AFL side against Hawthorn in Round 6 and two weeks later I got suspended, so it was a pretty interesting start. I feel like I’ve now got some continuity.

How do you put the weight back on? Were you advised to eat as much as possible or were you told to remain on a strict diet and gradually build yourself back up?

It wasn’t that bad, actually because the doctor gave me the leeway to eat what I wanted for a few weeks there! I was eating so much pasta and all the carbs to build my body back up. The body is pretty amazing in that respect in terms of the muscle memory, it all came back pretty quickly. The toughest thing was regaining fitness and I reckon the first time I ran after being in hospital I struggled to do a lap I was blowing that hard.

What was it like dropping nine kilos? Can you remember the last time you were that light?

I reckon I was 16 when I was last in the 70 kg range. I remember rocking up to training about a week after being in hospital and the boys looked at me closely and almost didn’t know who I was because I was that skinny and frail. I recall Spud Frawley giving it to me on the track. It was pretty funny!

Going back to last year with the Dogs, and being injured and being forced to watch on as the team made history, clearly you would have been really excited for your friends and for the club, but what was that like not being involved on the day?

It was an amazing experience and something I’ll cherish forever. Some of my best mates got to play in a flag and it was pretty special in that the Dogs hadn’t won one for so long and to do it the way they did was amazing. At the same time, it was pretty difficult to sit back and watch because all you want to do is be out there and sit up on the podium with them. I look back on it now as a learning curve — at the stage then I probably checked out a little bit after being injured and wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be. I look back at things like that and learn from it. I’ve got a bit of time left to try and do it again.

Knowing first-hand what it means to win a premiership not only for a player but a club, I imagine that motivates you further knowing you have a chance at a new club that is going through a lengthy drought?

It motivates me a lot. To be able to go through an experience where we were sitting seventh on the ladder and took it week-by-week and saw what happened, and to be able to watch a team just catch fire and go on a four-week run in September that was fueled by momentum it reminded me that any team can do anything this year the way the competition is. It keeps me motivated through times like this when it’s cold and it’s winter and your body is a little bit sore during training. I always have it in the back of the mind.

Speaking of catching fire over four weeks, the Saints have won four in a row, and even though the first two wins were gritty games that you had to grind out, the last two wins in Perth and on Saturday night were very positive. How have things turned after three disappointing weeks in a row?

We started playing some really good footy at the start of the year, and then had three bad weeks where we went slow with the footy and went sideways and played safe in a way. It’s a credit to the coaches because we sat down and had a great meeting about our method and the way we were playing at the time and we made an effort to get back to free-flowing footy and the last month has been really positive. The first couple of wins were grinded out, but over the weekend we felt that a big performance was coming and it did. But it’s only one game where we’ve lit it up so we need to continue to improve.

Take me back to the suspension… it came at the worst possible time because you’d come back from the food poisoning, played well against the Hawks and then in your second game against the Giants you tackled Nathan Wilson, got suspended and was forced to wait it out again…

It was as frustrating as things have been, really. Coming off the salmonella, and then getting back into the AFL side and playing really well and copping a suspension for what most people would believe was a really good tackle, but the way the rules are these days it’s a fine line and that was the hardest thing for me. You grow up getting taught to tackle that way but at the end of the day, there’s rules in place and when someone hits their head you’re at risk of having a week off and that’s what happened.

I probably felt a bit sorry for you because I heard that Richo mentioned at quarter time in that game that the Giants were breaking some of the team’s tackles, and then you set the tone and the standard with a tackle that set up a goal, you get a free kick for holding the ball, and then all of a sudden you’re on the sidelines again…

Yeah, and that made it even more frustrating. Richo has come to me a few times this year when we’ve been down or struggling and told me that I need to set a standard by hitting a body or getting the boys going and that was one of those times. It’s something that’s happened and I’ve moved on pretty quickly. Richo has spoken to me and told me to not stop playing the way I am and keep hitting the contest as hard as ever.

Did anyone from the club provide any commentary after the Instagram post you put up?

Haha, no they didn’t! I think it was swept under the carpet…

In the nine games you’ve played, the team has won six of those, you’re averaging career-high disposals and tackles, is your role different at the Saints? You seem to be enjoying more time in the middle of the ground.

I’m not playing as much forward as I have previously. Over the past couple of years, and especially with Bevo, all players had to be a utility and be able to play in different spots, and because we had so many good midfielders at the Dogs there’d be periods where I’d be playing a lot up forward. This year, Richo has backed me in and I’ve built a really good relationship with Jack Steven, Seb Ross and Jack Steele also. I’m playing inside mid and it’s been good in that respect because I’m playing a role that I’m really good at but haven’t had the opportunity to play in the last four or five years.

What was that second quarter like on Saturday night? To win it 59-1 must have been unbelievable… everything just worked.

There’s not many times — especially in the AFL — where you have fun playing because it’s such a brutal contest. This year, it’s ruthless and if you’re a little bit off, any team can make you look silly. That second quarter was amazing and to see the goals go through was good because we’ve had periods over the last five or six weeks where we’ve kicked a lot of points. Being able to kick those goals led to more momentum and it was a fun half.

You sold some pretty good candy as well…

I had to make up for the dropped chest mark! I lost the yellow footy in the lights and I just kept making it up on the spot. I thought I ran too far after I kicked it!

With the goal-kicking side of things, is that something that Richo and the coaching staff talk to you guys about and make adjustments for, or is it expected that as a footballer you need to make your own sacrifice and work on it in your own time?

Richo addressed it a tiny bit, but it’s something that we need to work on in our own time — we do a lot of goal-kicking as it is — but he did tell us to keep creating the opportunities because it will come. If we keep putting the work in, then it will happen eventually and it did on the weekend which was great to see.

Moving away from footy, what do you like to get up to off the field? I see you and Matt Suckling have launched a clothing line…

Yeah. It’s called ‘Lundyn’ and it’s a streetwear brand. So far, we’ve had a lot of interest in some big stores like Culture Kings and some stores overseas, so we’re working through that and trying to sort out our manufacturers for when that drops in the summer. Hopefully we’re going to target opening up a store in the CBD of Melbourne early on in the year, not just for our brand but also to bring in some bigger ones from overseas that not many people in Australia have access to.

How much time do you spend putting into that? I imagine the networking and production would take up a lot of your spare time…

It’s taking up a lot of time, and I’m also doing my business degree on the side at university, so between that and the project we’re working on at the moment it’s quite time-consuming, but it’s good because it takes my mind off things. It’s great to have an avenue away from footy.

Looking forward to the end of the year, have you set any personal goals?

I want to keep building my footy because I still feel like I’m not at my best and I have a lot of growth left in my game. Obviously, the continuity will help that. Now, I’ve played five games in a row which doesn’t seem like much but for me it’s a lot. At the start of this year, I was in and out with sickness and last year I had injuries so I really want to build into the next block of games and stay healthy. I think I have a lot more to give to the midfield and the team as well.

Thanks for taking the time on your day off, and good luck for the rest of the season.