AFL Round 8 – West Coast v North Melbourne: Another chance goes begging

The Elimination Final debacle at Patersons Stadium last September revealed North’s brittleness and lack of belief in big games.

The scars from that horrible day are still pretty raw. So far in 2013, in winnable positions against Collingwood, Geelong and Hawthorn, North have failed to close out these games.

Two of North’s three victories this year have come against teams below them on the ladder – Brisbane and Western Bulldogs – while the win over Port Adelaide in Hobart was messy.

Tonight’s game – a rare Friday night invite from headquarters – provides a double-layered opportunity for North: redemption for last year’s finals’ humiliation and a chance to prove themselves against a top club.

With Eloise tucked away in bed and Linda in the front room watching episodes of ‘Revenge’ – note the coincidence – I settle in front of the heater with a few left over over beers from Eloise’s first birthday party held a few weeks ago. The TV volume is turned down and ABC radio commentary up because listening to biased WA broadcasters is better than CH7’s noise pollution.

First thing I do is check the match-ups: MacKenzie on Drew; Thommo on Kennedy; Boomer picked up by Selwood; 250 gamer Glass goes to Thomas; Goldy stands opposite Nik Nat in the ruck; Schofield’s niggling Majak; Hansen is at CHB on Cox and Grima has Darling.

It’s a frantic start with the ball flung wide and long on the large surface. A few minutes in Boomer receives a free for in the back and kicks the first. It’s the wrong call – Waters had eyes for the ball and his hands didn’t touch Boomer’s back – but we’ll take it.

A minute later, Cox marks and squares the score. Hill smothers and Darling goals. Black marks and scores. Kennedy and Wells do the same. When Wright squeezes one through North are looking the better team. Wells, Bastinac, Atley and Hansen are everywhere as North spread, run and carry. Majak beats Nik Nat to the tap. We kick the last four of the term, including a ripper from Thommo from outside 50m, and have a 17 point lead.

West Coast hit back at the start of the second. La Cras goals in the first minute and they build the wall across CHF for the next ten minutes. Priddis and Rosa are prominent. They pepper but waste chances with only one goal coming from 8 scoring shots. The Eagles should be in front.

Unlike last season’s EF, North absorb the pressure and respond. They keep it simple: numbers at the contest and keeping the ball moving. Atley and Mullett run. Boomer controls and directs. Jack wills himself forward and lays a smother. Thomas misses twice, but Cunnington, in the middle of a position cementing season, receives from Wells and kicks truly.

It’s pretty physical. Wellingham has gone off with an ankle and Schofield does a wrist. Wright and Brennan clash heads and Thommo goes for popping Rosa behind the play. If he gets weeks it will hurt; he’s in All-Australian form.

North have matched West Coast’s effort and lead by 13 points at half-time. It’s the best they’ve played since the first half against the Cats and when I speak with a North mate on the phone at half-time, we’re confident North can play this game out and finally claim a big scalp.

The helter-skelter has taken it toll and the third term lacks the slick ball movement of the first half. Masten roves a thrown-in and snaps a goal. Tatts and beard, he looks like a kick boxing gym bikie. Again, West Coast waste chances.

Thomas kicks long to Majak who marks and kicks his first.

Kennedy misses poorly but for some reason is given a second kick and this time doesn’t make a mistake. Shuey gives the Eagles the lead.

Thommo is dragged down not in possession but no free is paid. A few minutes later he receives a guilty, soft square up. Thomas tackles MacKenzie, is awarded, but when the ball falls to Bastinac on the boundary, advantage is called and he snaps and he misses. Again, wrong call. I text another mate, a former AFL umpire: ‘Umps having a shocker’. He agrees.

Eagles go up the other end and Hill rubs salt in. Eagles by 8 and Nik Nat and Kerr are everywhere.
Wells has drifted out of the game and North have stopped running. Majak is subbed out for the fourth time in five games. This concerns me. He’s been quiet – predictable after his 6 goals last week – but his big body may have been important at the death.

Jack and Black stand up. Ziebell lays a tackle and North carry up the far side. Black goals. They combine again for another. Boomer holds up the Eagles at CHB.

North have answered the challenge again and lead by 4 points at the last change. I’m confident and surprisingly calm. They will win this.

In the first minute, Jack dances through traffic looking a bit like Timmy Watson and a lot like Nathan Buckley. This guy will win a Brownlow is North can win enough games.

Hill’s goal keeps the home team in it and their fans hopeful.

North hold their composure. Goldy and Cunnington apply forward pressure which allows Swallow in to score. Drew chips to Boomer in what looks like a set play and the lead is 15 points. Thommo pushes Kennedy off his kick and he misses. Boomer kicks long to the goal square and Black marks. It’s incorrectly called touched off the boot.

North press for the killer blow but the Eagles hang in despite mounting injuries. Nik Nat and Kerr are everywhere. The former’s second efforts are astounding. He’s the big kid in the playground. Nik Nat and Kennedy miss set shots. Hill bounces through CHF and goals. He misses another.

It’s frantic now and the West Coast fans are hysterical.

Like he did late against Hawthorn two weeks ago, Drew misses a set shot from 50. From 15 out,Wright goes check side and hits the post. Why didn’t he go back a bit further and kick a drop punt?

North lead by 9 points with three minutes left. They still look the better team but are turning the ball over. Sydney wouldn’t do that. They’d close it down. Kennedy kicks to Shuey who goals from a slight angle.

Three points.

North scramble a behind, handing West Coast possession again. There’s a mood shift at this point and North’s composure (and mine), sound all night, is shaky.

With a minute and half left Schuey is tackled at half-forward and allows himself to fall forward, drawing a free. His kick is marked by Black who could’ve cleared to the far side, but instead goes back into traffic.

Selwood is tackled by Adams and he too sucks the ump in by going to ground as if shot. Even the radio commentators can’t believe it.

Selwood throws up the hail mary and Nik Nat rises almost predictably and pulls down a screamer.

This tall, magnificent young man, the colt from old regret, my favourite opposition player, settles over the ball and allows the final siren to announce the dramatic closing scene in this epic. Naturally, Nik Nat splits the middle and runs to the crowd to celebrate. He was born to do this.

North players fall to the turf devastated. I’m devastated. I turn off the TV and slink to bed.

I sleep like a dog and hope the umps did as well. In the morning, two cold truths are obvious: North received some bad decisions from umpires who are possibly even more confused than fans about rule interpretation. And North coughed up another game they should’ve won.

A cuddle from Eloise helps sooth the pain.

WEST COAST 3.2 4.9 8.14 12.18 (90)
NORTH MELBOURNE 6.1 7.4 10.6 3.10 (88)

GOALS
West Coast: Hill 3; Kennedy, Shuey 2; Cox, Darling, LeCras, Masten, Naitanui.
North Melbourne: Black 3; Harvey 2; Wright, Wells, Thompson, Petrie, Cunnington, Daw, Ziebell, Swallow.

BEST
West Coast: Naitanui, Priddis, Kerr, Gaff, Glass.
North Melbourne: Harvey, Ziebell, Cunnington, Black, Mullett, Wells, Goldstein, Atley.

Umpires: Dalgleish, Nicholls, Meredith Official crowd: 38,146 at Patersons Stadium

Our votes: Naitanui (WCE) 3, Harvey (NM) 2, Ziebell (NM) 1.

Comments

  1. “North scramble a behind”….
    Starks, I forget just who it was that scrambled that behind, but my 18 year-old son texted me at that moment: “Why would you kick the ball through and give the Eagles possession?” I felt exactly the same way. Just a lack of poise.
    Sam Wright’s miss was inexcusable in that situation…he also had a chance to ice the Hawthorn match, running into an open goal and missing. With all due respect to Sam, good players don’t miss those.
    I can’t decide which of the three close losses was the worst, but there were plenty of positives in the Eagles loss given that North had so many players down (especially after 1/4 time).
    But hats off to the Eagles…they were undermanned for much of the game, and kept coming.

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    This one hurt mate. I think it was Sam again who scrambled the point. He misses too many. So does Drew.

  3. My thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time.

  4. Who am I kidding… BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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