Ross Lyon forecasts another "dual narrative" next year as St Kilda aim to prove doubters wrong by continuing their upwards trajectory while promoting young talent.
The Saints were forced to usher through a wave of fresh faces during an injury-hit 2023 campaign, but still managed to play finals in Lyon's first season back at the helm.
The 57-year-old coach saw enough in the likes of Mitch Owens, Marcus Windhager, Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, Mattaes Phillippou and Anthony Caminiti to give him belief the club can build a successful list around the emerging group.
And he is buoyed by the addition of first-round draft picks Darcy Wilson and Lance Collard - plus trade recruits Liam Henry and Paddy Dow - as the Saints seek to end the competition's longest-standing premiership drought.
Despite his bullish outlook, Lyon noted the vast majority of experts and journalists in a recent newspaper poll predicted the Saints to miss the finals next year.
"That's OK, I think I heard that last year," Lyon said.
"My expectation is you do the work, focus on action and write your own story, because you can make them right or wrong.
"I think we can run the dual narrative like last year.
"We exposed a lot of kids ... and we played finals, so we ran a dual narrative, and I think we can do it again.
"We expect Collard to play, we expect Arie (Schoenmaker) to get a game or two, and Wilson's been blowing the running apart, so we expect him to play a fair bit of footy like Mattaes (Phillippou did last season)."
St Kilda overcame serious injuries to key players such as Max King, Tim Membrey and Zak Jones to force their way into the top eight last season, ousted by GWS in an elimination final.
"We think there's some real upside in those guys, and we expect our young guys to continue to improve," Lyon said.
He said he had taken advice from former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley to work on his team's "connection" and "team dynamic" at the start of pre-season.
"It's probably been a weakness, so we got it done in the first week," Lyon said.
"If you understand everyone's highlights and hardships in their life, you know, under pressure it's easier to work with them and understand them."