Righto, here’s Draft 2 of this piece. Draft 1 having disappeared in a fog of shiraz and recrimination late last night.
Now I know how Harms felt. On Wednesday night, when the improbable happened to his Canetoads. And Thursday night, when the unforgiveable happened to his Cats. I gloated, but didn’t mock in public. Ask not for whom the banana peels; it slides for thee.
My Carlton-supporting neighbour was loading his family into the car for a Sunday afternoon outing. He paused when he saw me and winced in anticipation of the obligatory riposte. “Nah Carlo, we haven’t played yet. I haven’t earned the right to a spray yet.”
I felt a spring in my step all day on Sunday. Perth’s winter sun shone. Saturday golf was encouraging, and my wine consumption at an excellent dinner with friends unusually modest enough not to trouble the neurones on Sunday morning. The Eagles had been respectable all season, and put in an ‘almost’ breakthrough performance against the Magpies at the MCG the previous week.
For a natural born pessimist, I was unnaturally optimistic. A win against the Kangaroos was likely; a close game probable. No other permutations existed within the (limited) confines of my perceptions. The Avenging Eagle; her English niece Nadya and my colleague Karl accompanied me to Subiaco Oval for a late Sunday evening game on the first day of winter.
Sport as entertainment exists to uplift the spectator. To transcend the mundanity of workaday lives, and make us dream of pasts that never were and futures that never will be. You know the sort of thing – bumper stickers that say “a bad day’s golf/fishing is better than a good day’s work”.
Obviously that bumper sticker writer never barracked for the Blues/Tigers/insert joke team here – or worse still my brain-dead Eagles. My Sunday started out great and ended angry, frustrated and depressing. Here’s why:
The game early is fast and open with lots of turnovers from both sides resulting in goals. North are 2 goals clear for most of the term, but a couple of late scores get us back within 3 points at the break.
Dark clouds have suddenly loomed up from the south west and the first 15 minutes of the 2nd quarter is played in sporadic showers. The Eagles turn to teabags. They don’t stand up to water. Or pressure. Or the sort of relentless running that is North’s specialty.
Our midfield (save for Priddis) is pathetic. As the team leaves the ground for half time, I loudly suggest that Luke Shuey stick his fingers in a power socket so he can get a kick. We are winning none of the contested ball or clearances. Weak as water.
Our forwards are incompetent. There is no leading to space to make room for team mates. No-one presenting multiple leads to the 40 to give a chip target when we have possession. Opposition coaches laugh up their sleeves as they continually talk up “the Eagles dangerous tall forwards – Kennedy and Darling”. And the media prints it and the fans believe it. Dumb as dirt.
At the break there is a sign on the big screen and a recorded message that deathlessly intones “It is an offence to enter the playing arena…….” in an Eagles jumper if you play like that – I finish his sentence. I can take limited talent like Cripps or inexperience like Yeo, but lack of hard effort like Shuey and Wellingham, or repeated stupidity like Kennedy and Darling really irks.
At half time we are only 20 points behind, because the Kangaroos kicked an Eagles-like 2.6 to our one point for the quarter. We should be 5 goals behind, and I foolishly think that it can’t get any worse.
But it does. Priddis kicks a goal in the first minute, and I issue a raspy ‘Come on Eagles’ to balance out my vitriol from the second quarter. Clunking turnovers gift North 3 quick ones and then Mitch Brown throws the ball away when a midfield free is awarded. Adams is marched to the square to goal, and I completely lose it for 5 minutes. Standing in our second tier seats screaming “f’in dill and useless waste of space” at everyone in an Eagles jumper.
The lady in front of me turns to take a picture, and I momentarily think I might be frogmarched out of the ground by security. I have called Sharrod every name under the sun, but none of them racist to my understanding. They don’t have to confiscate my membership. I will gladly surrender it based on this ‘effort’ and go to watch my nephew play in Dandaragan.
Karl and I do a role reversal and he becomes seriously concerned for my mental health, and the Avenging Eagle tugs at my jacket for me to take a rest. I take a lead from the Eagles midfield and surrender meekly. Orange time and we are 39 points down.
The last quarter is the usual protracted junk time now common in the Appalling Football League. North kicks a couple by half way through the quarter and I am hoping they will double our score to reinforce our player’s abject capitulation. We get two late goals and manage SIX for a full 100 minutes of football to lose by a 38 point margin – that considerably flatters us.
Francis Leach had a classic double entendre moment on Offsiders this morning when he referred to “SCORE TRYING” football in the Rugby League State of Origin. He was just anticipating the Eagles performance today. I have never witnessed a more score trying performance. (PS – Harmsy – After John Stensholt your never have to worry about being the worst dressed bloke on Offsiders. I had a shirt and jumper like his – in 1983.)
I haven’t said much about North, not to be unkind, but because they were consistent and hard working rather than brilliant. Brad Scott sets up with an extra man behind the ball and they run hard out of defence. They have played the same linking, chipping football against us for a couple of years. But now their midfielders are much stronger and harder, and their skills cleaner. So they were able to put considerable physical pressure on our players who coughed it up immediately. It is an evolution of style rather than a notable improvement in North. They are still a couple of tall forward targets away from being a top side. Petrie was well held by the ever reliable MacKenzie who was our only winner on the day.
Daniel Wells will add some flair to the midfield when he returns from injury, and I was impressed that Scott played Majak Daw on the ball for most of the day. It is teaching him how to find the ball and use it, whereas he can fall out of the play for long periods as a key forward. Naitanui is getting fitter and worked hard today, but it is galling to admit that Majak now has more footy smarts.
It would be good to be a Kangaroos supporter in Perth this year, with strong wins over both the Dockers and Eagles. Maybe a move interstate would be to the Kangaroos advantage? They look a 6th to 8th team to me, who are a forward target away from being a really top side.
One thing that I notice as a big difference between teams this year is that mediocre sides try to put pressure on the ball carrier. The good sides (and North did it today) are disciplined enough to zone off and put pressure on the likely receivers. It chops off the run, but must be hard to coach into players who are instinctually ball chasers from their junior days.
What do you do if you are Adam Simpson, and have inherited a list that is habitually talked up in Perth – but is mediocre for emerging talent and appalling in its foot skills, smarts and tackling pressure? The continued list of excuses from team management treats fans like politicians treat voters. We aren’t stupid – and if restructuring or rebuilding is necessary – tell us honestly how and why.
That risks damaging the delicate egos of Gen X’ers like Shuey and Wellingham – but stuff it – they have no confidence anyway so there is little to risk with home truths. The difficulty is that being dropped to the 2’s has no real meaning any more – they still have their inflated contractual salaries – and can collect 30 possessions in the WAFL without raising a sweat. Our season is shot for making finals now, so let’s get some games into youngsters like Hutchings and Sheed who are at least willing and coachable. Gaff needs time in the gym to develop a physical presence to match his running (and his kicking is unreliable over distance).
Kennedy should have his legs broken if he leaves the 50 zone. He should be leading hard from the square, and the other talls should be leading in the opposite direction to make space. Darling was sacrificed as a midfielder for much of today. He plays his best football as a high forward across the 50 metre line, where his speed is an advantage. Darling and LeCras are both forwards, and we should stop using them to patch up our incompetent midfield.
Scott Selwood should be allowed to find the ball alongside Priddis, not given repeat suicide missions on Pendlebury and Harvey. Hutchings can learn the game as a strong bodied tagger. He might get cut up for the first dozen games, but we have nothing to lose any more.
The only players who earned respect or their pay cheque were MacKenzie, Priddis, Hurn, Selwood (wasted as a tagger) and LeCras (starved of opportunities). We got the ball inside 50 eight more times than North, but our ball movement is so stagnant and slow that oppositions easily crowd our attacking zone. Our ‘switch’ of the ball to the far side is so slow that the final link is generally going backwards to safety, rather than gaining 30 metres on penetrating forward runs as Essendon did against Richmond. Oppositions coaches don’t study videos of the Eagle’s ball movement. They have oil paintings done.
We lack the big bodied midfielders to provide marking targets as we exit defence, so we have to run and chip it out more. Anyone bombing long into the 50 (I’m looking at you Matt Rosa) should have their salary withheld. Hurn, Shepperd, Bennell and Schofield all need to run and take the game on out of half back. Run, link and chip needs to be our mantra. If Kennedy is 2 on 1 in attack, then we should be kicking to space and forcing stoppages, not making it easy for the opposition defence.
Our players are too scared of making mistakes. But by being slow and cautious they ensure them. Lets spend the rest of 2013 developing a team and a game style. Mollycoddling mediocrity doesn’t cut it.
3 B Cunnington (NM); 2 L Greenwood (NM); 1 N Dal Santo (NM)
3 Best Supporting Actress
L Shuey and S Wellingham for “The Lady Vanishes”
2 Best Actors in a (not) Leading Role
J Kennedy and J Darling for “Dumb and Dumber”
1 Supporting Actor in a Comedy Role
Mitch Brown for his (not on) the full “Monty”
North Melbourne 4.0 6.6 10.9 12.10 (82)
West Coast 3.3 3.4 4.6 6.8 (44)
North Melbourne: A Black 2, L Adams 2, D Petrie 2, S Atley, A Swallow, B Cunnington, B Harvey, L Thomas, L Anthony.
West Coast: M LeCras 2, M Priddis 2, N Naitanui, J Cripps.
North Melbourne: B Cunnington, L Greenwood, N Dal Santo, S Thompson, R Bastinac, B Harvey.
West Coast: E MacKenzie, M Priddis, S Hurn, M LeCras, S Selwood.
Umpires: Luke Farmer, Brendan Hosking, Robert Findlay.