AFL Round 15: Hard time in old North Melbourne

By Reverend Shinboner

First, brunch with Lady Shinboner (Grigons & Orr – good choice). Then, footy at the Limerick Castle Hotel.
The Limerick is vintage North Melbourne. Just a few minutes walk from the gentrified island of Errol Street, it takes me to an era before my time. A bustling TAB dominates the atmosphere of the front bar – the new smoking laws would’ve hit extra hard here. It also seems like one of the few places where workers, derroes and latté drinkers all seem to get on. Just on from the bar is a simple dining room with a big screen. A group of about 15 people, mostly middle-aged women, finish off lunch. I’ve seen these people before – they know their footy, and they know their suburb. This is the heartland.
The picture of York Park is bleak. Half way through the first quarter, the rains turns to hail — old-fashioned wet-weather football is back, and I love it. Both teams work hard for limited results. Stoppages dominate. North look OK, but the Hawks clear it too easily. Buddy looks ferocious, but Gibbo ensures his impact is minimal. Just a point in it at quarter-time.
Second quarter, and North pick up the pace. Hale roams freely across half-forward, Swallow is in his element and Thomas is strutting again — the Roos kick a couple to be clear at half-time. The Limerick’s friendly banter is tinged with optimism.
The momentum carries into the third quarter, and when Simmo kicks an unlikely goal, the room erupts. (“Helicopter punts go better into the wind.”) Then Dwayne Russell accuses Harding of playing for a free kick and the back-bar is aghast. Like an intelligent youngest child, North supporters don’t take well to patronising commentary — and Russell has got form. Jordan Lewis pushes out Greenwood (“Hands in the back”)  and goals to keep the Hawks in touch. Now the umpires are patronising us too. But Harding plucks an unlikely mark and goals right on the three-quarter-time bell. North by 14 points.
Then some sunshine comes through, and so does Buddy. A solitary Hawks supporter joins us in the back-bar. With 12 minutes to go, North cling to a five-point lead. The tension is palpable, both teams missing their chances. North decide to play the clock rather than the goals, and wind it down to three minutes. Then Hodge gets clear and steels the lead. Franklin, isolated at full-forward and on a roll, nails his fourth for the quarter and the game to boot, and the solitary Hawks fan goes nuts. (“Shut-up.”)
The cautious optimism evaporates and the emptiness sets in … again. The banter moves away from football. Time to head to the Drunken Poet – I hear Ian Collard plays a good tune or two …
Rev. Shinboner is the author of Roo Beauty – a North Melbourne Football Club blog for thinking supporters.

About Reverend Shinboner

Reverend Shinboner grew up in Wangaratta, North-East Victoria, to a football accepting, but not obsessing family. Nevertheless, North Melbourne-supporting lineage dictated the choice in VFL club, who at the time, spent most of their days fighting out the middle-to-lower rungs of the ladder. The brilliance of the Krakouers and regular Friday night coverage ensured interest in the game was maintained.

This all changed in 1993, when Rev. Shinboner was sent to boarding school in Melbourne. An introverted and somewhat nerdy Townie, weighing in at 34 kgs, was sent to the wolves. Surrounded by teenage posturing from somewhat over-entitled boys meant fitting in was a day-to-day proposition.

At this critical junction two things happened: North Melbourne became contenders and Rev. Shinboner saw his team play at the ‘G for the first time. 25 Friday nights, 3 Preliminary Finals and about 25 kgs later and he could mix it with the best of them. Reverend Shinboner has been connecting with people through football ever since.

While the Reverend’s love of North Melbourne has waxed and waned over the years, one incident transformed his relationship with the club forever. In 2002, the North Melbourne players decided they could no longer play alongside the greatest player the club had ever seen. The North officials agreed. Wayne Carey was sacked. Never before had such a statement of principle and character been made by a football club.

Anthony Stevens led the team to an inspired victory over a much more fancied Port Adelaide a few days later. For Rev. Shinboner it meant more than the 1999 Premiership.

While North Melbourne’s fortunes have since been mired in relocation speculation and a middling team, Rev. Shinboner knows two constants: North Melbourne Football Club will be written off and North Melbourne Football Club will survive. Just as they always have.

His love of the club remains at an all time high.

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