St Kilda coach Lyon defends Baker - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

St Kilda coach Lyon defends Baker

By Sam Lienert 24/09/2010 05:40:07 PM Comments (0)

St Kilda coach Ross Lyon insists tough tagger Steven Baker is no thug, despite his AFL grand final recall following the latest in a long list of suspensions.

Lyon was confident the 30-year-old had the natural attributes needed to instantly make an impact against Collingwood on Saturday, after three months without playing.

And he said the defensive hard man did not deserve any extra attention from umpires, nor the reputation his poor tribunal record suggested.

"If you want to continue to hang him for prior incidents, that's your prerogative," Lyon told reporters on Friday.

"But we see him as a 200-game player, best and fairest winner, highly-respected.

"People can make their own judgments, but he certainly has a number of players to play on ... that's why he's been brought in.

"To allude to the fact that Steven's been brought in for some thuggery is mischievous and negligent."

While Baker has been guilty of 14 charges over his career and suspended for 26 games - as much as any current player - Lyon said that was partly a product of the system's harshness on repeat offenders.

He pointed to Baker's clean sheet for two-and-a-half years between a seven-match ban for rough conduct in 2007 and nine-game suspension in his most recent game.

That was for a series of four offences against Geelong forward Steve Johnson in round 13, when umpires were criticised for not stepping in earlier.

Baker acknowledged that might prompt them to place him under added scrutiny early in the grand final.

"Maybe a little bit closer than they would a usual player, but I'll be back playing fair, hard footy," he said.

Any player found guilty of an offence in the grand final will be subject to double penalties under the AFL tribunal system.

After serving his suspension, Baker was overlooked for the club's first two finals, partly as a result of a toe injury, although Lyon said match-ups were the bigger issue.

He learnt of his grand final recall at Thursday night's team meeting.

"It's been up and down and a few nervous nights and sleepless nights, but now I'm back in and just looking forward to the game," Baker said.

Saints captain Nick Riewoldt said Baker's inclusion - at the expense of young ruckman Ben McEvoy in the club's only change from their preliminary side - was welcomed by teammates.

"You always look around the room, the players' room, before you run down the race and you look at the guys and you'd like to think that deep down you can really trust everyone and that's certainly what we've been able to build over a couple years," Riewoldt said.

"There are some guys that just go that little bit extra and the way Bakes plays the game, he's a guy that all players across the competition would love to be his teammate."

Baker seems a likely opponent for Magpies star Alan Didak, who he has played on several times in the past, although Lyon said Leon Davis, Steele Sidebottom and Jarryd Blair were other options.

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