AFL Round 13: North Melbourne v Western Bulldogs: I like Roos’ approach but Dogs do enough to win

North Melbourne versus Western Bulldogs
2.10pm, Sunday, June 28
Melbourne Cricket Ground
By Andrew Starkie

It’s funny what the mid-season break, a new coach, Boomer’s return and school holidays can do.  I’m looking forward to today’s game.  There’s a freshness in the air, like the start of a new season.

I have another reason to feel excited.  Three work colleagues (I’m a teacher), two who haven’t been to a game before, have joined me in the Members’ Reserve.  I enjoy taking footy virgins to games. I gush and puff my chest like a new father as I proudly introduce them to our game.

Podraig Staunton is a strawberry blond Irishman, briefly calling Melbourne home.  He’s the younger brother of Steve, former English Premier League player, Irish international and, more recently, national coach.  Their dad was a policeman during the sectarian Troubles.

Podraig’s game is Gaelic football.  His local county, Louth – pronounced loud, as in ‘Loud and Proud!’ – struggle and have been all-Ireland champions on only a few occasions.  Podraig loves the amateur status of Irish sport.  However, he concedes that competing with soccer and, more recently the AFL, is increasingly difficult.  He applauds his young countrymen for pursuing riches offered by the Australian game.  Providing they return to play the Irish code when their time is up, of course.

Sport is tribal in Ireland, according to Podraig.  You support your local team.  Anything else is treachery.

“That’s why I can’t believe this eejit…” he says, shaking his head at Todd.

Todd is an Englishman, from Leicester, who, for unexplained reasons, supports Arsenal in the EPL.  Quick-witted and dry, Todd believes the greatest asset he brings to teaching is humour.  Any combustible situation can be doused with a bit of light-hearted sarcasm.  Todd is also enjoying an extended tour of the colonies.

Todd and Podraig are in charge of the physical education department at school.  An Englishman and Irishman in charge of PE?  I know what you’re thinking.  We don’t break too many long-standing national records.

Richard is the final member of today’s party.  As an erudite man, he’s not your typical Collingwood supporter.  However, his choice of team is best explained by his favourite hobby.  Richard’s passion is his home-brew kit, which produces a range of exotic brews and occupies the best room in the home that he shares with his tolerant Japanese wife and bubbling twin boys.

I give the boys a quick tour of the Members’ and a spiel on the history of the game.  Todd and Podraig take some convincing when I declare ours to be the first organised, and therefore oldest, of the football codes.

We settle in centre-wing, ground level.  Everyone is in holiday mode and the boys are jolly after experiencing pre-game local culture at a Punt Road pub.

Boomer’s elbow is heavily strapped and Picken, his Round 2 nemesis, picks him up.  Debutant, Liam Anthony, starts on the bench.

The game starts with intensity and energy.  Both teams resemble schoolboys who’ve been released to the playground after a long day caged inside because of rain.  Crocker’s game plan is obvious.  We’re playing direct and attacking footy.  We’re playing on and taking risks.  Both teams kick early goals.

Alas, the more things change… Before long, we’re repeating the skill errors that have plagued our season.  Harris drops an uncontested mark at full-forward.  Turnovers in defence lead to three Bulldogs goals.  Hargrave and Eagleton have started well.  Giansiracusa limps off.

Petrie is providing a lone target.  He kicks two.  Lake out-positions Hale.  Warren, returning from a broken cheekbone, is carried off with a fractured leg.

Bulldogs lead by nine points at quarter-time.

Boomer drags us into the contest in the second term.  He directs traffic, beckons leads and hits targets with deft, perfectly weighted kicks.  A long handball releases Hansen who goals.  Boy, we’ve missed the captain.

We probably should lead.  However, Boomer has hit the post on the run and Jones has missed two easy shots.  The Bulldogs’ lead is reduced to two points at the main break.

Over a half-time pint in the Bull Ring, Todd is amazed by the number of seagulls on the ground and wonders if they ever get a kick.  He and Podraig are impressed with the physicality of our game, but bemused by the missed goals.  I explain goal-kicking is one part of our game that hasn’t improved over time.

Our half-time conversation is made more poignant during the third quarter.  North, though dominating for periods, can’t capitalise.  Our intensity and pressure are maintained and Ross and Anthony provide run.  Jones and Harding kick goals and we lead for a short time.  However, we can’t press home the advantage.

Swallow panics and sprays wide from directly in front.  Urquhart, whose kicking has been poor all season, runs into an open goal and misses everything.  Boomer catches the disease and kicks his third behind.

The Bulldogs have less possession, yet are more efficient.  Griffen is running hard with the ball.  Gia is back and kicks his first.  Hill takes a hanger in the goal square and seizes the lead on the siren.  The Bulldogs have the answers.

The Bulldogs run away with the game in the last quarter.  Simmo and Firrito turn the ball over and Gia kicks two more.  Hill adds another and the game is buried.  North tire and Hale kicks our only goal for the term and receives sarcastic cheers from the crowd.

The 22-point margin is a fair result as the Bulldogs have taken their chances and we haven’t.  Twelve of seventeen Bulldog goals have come from North turnovers.

Podraig and Todd catch a city-bound tram satisfied with their first experience of our game.  On the train to Reservoir I’m disappointed with the result, though heartened by the beginning of this period for our club.  Crocker has introduced a fresh, risk-taking brand of footy that will bring good results — if he can fix our skills.

NTH MELBOURNE 4.4 8.8 11.13 12.14 (86)
W BULLDOGS        6.1 9.4 13.6 17.6 (108)
Western Bulldogs: Giansiracusa 3; Akermanis , Hill, Eagleton , Higgins, Welsh 2; Ward, Cross, Gilbee, Hahn.
North Melbourne: Petrie, Harding 3; Swallow, Garlett, Jones, Hale, McIntosh, Hansen.
Western Bulldogs: Hargrave, Lake, Griffen, Eagleton, Johnson.
North Melbourne: Harvey, Anthony, Ross, Petrie, Swallow.
CROWD 31,470 at MCG.

My votes: Harvey (NM) 3, Anthony (NM) 2, Ross (NM) .1

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