WHEN Brendon Goddard was suspended for belting North Melbourne's Sam Wright recently, he had a heart-to-heart chat with coach Scott Watters.
Goddard was coming across as an angry man; Wright's goading on the day ought not have bothered him so much. With hindsight, he realises he needs to make himself less of a target.
''They obviously try to press my buttons,'' he said yesterday. ''I do wear my heart on my sleeve and my emotions. But obviously I've got to control those and really channel them in the right areas.''
The talk with Watters was instructive for Goddard. Having returned from the two-match suspension against Sydney last weekend, the 27-year-old utility, who almost won the 2010 grand final for St Kilda, is expecting a calmer approach from now on. ''We had a pretty good discussion, an open discussion about things, and just areas going forward we need to focus on.''
Goddard plays his 200th game for St Kilda this weekend against Western Bulldogs. It is an occasion he is proud of without necessarily going over the top. ''My friends probably make more of a big deal out of it than I do, although I'm very honoured and privileged to play 200 games for St Kilda. To me personally, the best thing we can do is give great effort and hopefully win.''
Goddard has played for 10 seasons and it is difficult to remember anyone who carried so much expectation. Picked at No.1 in the 2002 national draft, he has had only two seasons (2009, 2010 when he was All-Australian) that would meet the public craving for him to be great, rather than good.
Since 2010, when many were naming him close to the best player in the competition, he has returned to his former status as Good Rather Than Great Goddard, finishing ninth in the best and fairest last year. All of which annoys the hell out of him.
Two years on, he thinks his own expectations crushed him. ''I probably did that to myself, to be honest. On the back end of '09 and '10 and at the start of last year I had very high expectations. I could go one way and get ahead of yourself and think you're going well. I actually went the other way. I raised my expectations too much. I was trying too hard and trying to do too many things. It was unrealistic what I was trying to do.''
In the sense that they are both No.1 picks, Goddard has sympathy for Melbourne's Jack Watts, who suffered the same issues in the sense that from the time he arrived at the club, he was thought to be the saviour.
''Jack Watts is one that stands out to me, the criticism he's copped. Me personally knowing how hard it is to find a balance in your footy life, Jack was in a similar situation to me. He's never played senior footy and he's actually still growing into his body - this is my take on it - he's still growing, trying to find the balance, playing different positions, and there are high expectations simply because of the pick he was taken at No.1.
''I said at the time if I had my choice I'd go at 99, because therefore you'd have less expectation. I think the criticism on young players now is really unfair, the expectations of the media and also supporters have on young kids to perform straight away. It's not as easy as they think it is.''
Goddard's role has changed under Watters' coaching. Employed mostly as a defensive sweeper in Ross Lyon's time, he has played across half-back as well this season, but more recently as a half-forward. His averages are down (23.5 disposals a game compared with 27 and 28 disposals in 2009-10), but he pointed out that in his new roles, he is not necessarily expecting to win so much football.
''I've been pretty solid and consistent. I've had a few poor games, which I'm openly willing to admit. I feel like I'm not far away, I'm playing solid footy but it's that extra five or 10 per cent you need to get to have those standout games,'' he said.
Yet the Goddard we saw in Sydney last weekend seems quite a way from the man who stood on Harry O'Brien's shoulders and kicked what might have been the premiership-winning goal in the drawn 2010 grand final. When you think about it, Goddard was within a minute of being an immortal at St Kilda.
Does he reflect on that? ''Do I have time? You don't really have time,'' he said. ''But to be honest, you always have memories. Just watching television, seeing highlights of certain games, clips of those things always bring back memories. You don't have time to stop and think about them, but it's something that'll always be in the back of your mind.''
Goddard is out of contract but repeated yesterday that he was in ''no doubt'' he would like to continue at St Kilda. Talks have started, and he dismissed any notion that the process was affecting his form.
''I'm experienced enough and been around enough to focus on what's important and to separate the two. I've dealt with it pretty well. There's been no issues. At no point am I using it as an excuse for my performance.''