THE IMPACT of COVID-19 has forced St Kilda to prioritise development and restructure its assistant coaching panel ahead of next season.

Two years of interrupted fixtures at second-tier level will see the Saints appoint a full-time head of development in coming weeks.

Ben McGlynn and Jake Batchelor shared the duties in 2021, however the Saints will take the opportunity to shuffle positions after parting way with line coaches Aaron Hamill (backs) and Adam Skrobalak (forwards) after a failed season.

Assistant coach Jake Batchelor gives feedback to Leo Connolly at a training session in June 2021. Picture: Getty Images

“We’ve had the four line coaches and Ben McGlynn did the development with Jake Batchelor and we probably thought the workload was too high for Benny in that space,” coach Brett Ratten told AFL.com.au this week.

“We want somebody to own the development space. Especially considering in the last two years, there’s only been the (scratch match) games in Queensland and then just to have the eight games at VFL level, some of the players haven’t had the development we’re after.

“We’re looking for somebody to do that and looking for somebody in the line coaching space.”

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Ratten’s own contract is set to expire at the end of 2022, however he remains more than comfortable with waiting until February or March next year to being those conversations.

“That’ll be something that works through the year,” Ratten said.

“We know football’s a business of win-loss so that’ll be critical. We had 10 wins this year and we want to keep improving, that’s something a coach has to deal with and face all the time and that won’t change for any of the 18 coaches going forward.”

The Saints also appointed ex-GWS assistant and Jack Steele’s former housemate Nick Walsh as its new fitness boss in recent weeks.

Ratten highlighted a focus on the Saints’ youngsters grasping their opportunity next year and has instilled a ‘why not us’ mentality over pre-season.

He added that NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft revelation Cooper Sharman would only improve again but that the Saints needed to be wary not to overburden the 21-year-old.

“We want to get him to do a full pre-season which he hasn’t done for a couple of years, but we’ve got to be mindful we don’t put too much weight on him and do things too fast,” Ratten said.

“We could fast-track him and think we’ve got to put 7, 8, 9kg on him but that might break him down.

“I think he’s shown he’s show he’s a natural footballer and he’s shown an ability to adapt to AFL football very quickly. He’s got a beautiful pair of hands, kicks the ball well, got good game sense.”

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Mature-age draftee Tom Highmore is another for Saints fans to watch over pre-season as he attempts to build on his strong finish to the season in defence playing in 11 of the last 14 games.

“Maybe sometimes when you get a player of that 21-23-year age bracket that had been out of the system and work and find a way, they’re pretty desperate, humble and don’t mind the hard work. He’s one that fits that mould and been very impressive,” Ratten said.

“He’s going to improve with a pre-season, he’ll be fitter. He may have lacked a little bit at the start of the year in that space, but he’s shown the skill set to maybe hold down a key back position.”

The growth of Sharman and Highmore leaves the Saints with a decision on swingman Josh Battle who is expected to stay at Moorabbin after his name was floated in recent trade talks.

“Sometimes your flexibility is your greatest strength but your greatest weakness too,” Ratten said.

“He’s had some good success on the wing, he’s had good success as the second ruck, but he probably hasn’t nailed the tall (spot) at either end.

“That’s something we’re discussing, do we give him a preferred end to go to? We’ve got to make sure we look after him, he’s had a couple of stress fractures, that’s probably the talking point as to where we shape him.

“We think we’ll still keep him through the midfield at times and pick an end to go to.”