ST KILDA coach Alan Richardson knew he had a potential A-grader - and future captain - on his hands in David Armitage.
And he wasn't about to just hand him over to Richmond when the Tigers attempted to start bartering for his services at the end of last season.
"I was on a plane to Los Angeles when Richo called me and said 'Richmond was keen ... but I'm just letting you know right now that we've said "no" to them and you've nothing to worry about, so go and enjoy your holiday," Armitage recalled to APN this week.
The Tigers, while in need of another quality on-baller, had hoped Armitage was in need of a change of scenery after struggling to fulfill his potential since becoming only the third Queenslander to be drafted inside the top 10 in the past 15 years after Saints teammate Nick Riewoldt (No.1 in 2000) and David Hale (No.8 in 2001). He was taken at pick 9 from QAFL club Morningside in 2006.
A nasty cut just below his left knee caused by the boot of Adelaide's Patrick Dangerfield in round four meant the 2014 season was almost a write-off - it would lead to him missing 14 games after an infection developed in the wound.
But, Armitage returned from that end-of-season trip as committed as ever to becoming the best player he could be ... in a Saints jumper.
He's done just that.
The boy from league-mad Mackay is now one of the hottest players in the AFL, leading all-comers this season for disposals (264), ahead of Fremantle ace Nat Fyfe (249), his 2015 average of 33.0 clearly above his next best of 22.0 in 2014, and well above his career mark of 18.7.
Armitage has topped 30 possessions in six of his eight games - something he had only achieved twice in his first 107 games - with his 45 touches in the stunning round-six win over the Bulldogs the league benchmark this season.
The now 26-year-old, who will lead the Saints into battle when he makes his return to Brisbane tomorrow for the round-nine clash with the Lions, thanks Richardson for giving him "massive belief" during the off-season.
"He said 'mate, if you can maintain your fitness, and not get injured, anything is possible'. He said 'you're probably not an elite mid(fielder) at the moment, but by the end of the season I think you can be'," he recalled. "When you hear that from the coach ... it gives you a lot of confidence."
With his mind willing it was just a matter of getting the body to follow suit.
It has, after an intensive pre-season with St Kilda fitness guru Adam Basil, his GPS tracker showing he has been consistently covering anywhere between 14 and 17km a match. It was hovering around 12-13km after he returned from his knee injury last season.
"It's really helped a lot of guys out with our running power," he said.
"I've never been able to run games out like have this year. I've always sort of started off in the first half well ... but then faded out towards the end. That's certainly not the case this year."
Armitage doesn't discount the benefits of the Paleo diet he began in the off-season either.
"It's not strict paleo, (but) basically off bread and potatoes, and high-carb foods, and more protein," he explained.
"Sometimes you can blow out a bit in the off-season because you're not doing as much (exercise) as you are in the season or pre-season. I wanted to keep on top of that.
"It's probably helped, to be honest. I've kept the weight off and running really well."
With Nick Dal Santo gone, Lenny Hayes retired and Leigh Montagna battling injury, Armitage has not only become 'the man' at St Kilda - as Richardson recently put it - but also captain in four games when Riewoldt has been injured.
"It's been an awesome honour," he said. "Something I've really loved doing."
It means he's right in the frame to take over permanently once Riewoldt eventually passes on the title.
"It'll come to where Rooey's at. He's obviously been a great captain.
"It's always decided by who the group votes for during the pre-season. There's a lot of water to go under the bridge. It's obviously something that I would love to do."
He will hand back official leadership duties to Riewoldt tomorrow, but will remain the general of a young Saints' on-ball brigade.
"Obviously their (the Lions') midfield is really strong, with (Dayne) Beams, (Tom) Rockliff," he said. "It should be a really good game."
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