AFL Finals Week 1 – West Coast Eagles v North Melbourne: Finals footy from the text book

Baby Eloise and I, decked out head to foot in royal blue and white, posed for photos.

‘Smile baby girl, smile. It’s finals time.’

The excitement bristled through the house.

Then the game began and this season that had built so well, so impressively, warming all Northerners through a long winter, was over in a flash. A blur of blue and gold and forty thousand ravenous grins.

And the worst thing about it was that it was predictable. Every turnover, every bad bounce.

Finals footy is different: harder, faster, more intense, more demanding. It reveals everything. Better players and teams step up while pretenders shrink away. A lack of steel means an early exit, while those who get down in the trenches go deep into September. The inexperienced and shaky get rag-dolled; hardened bodies are left standing. Calm and believing minds get the job done.

Finals footy is different, that’s why we love it. We like sudden death tests to see who is best. Home and away is fine but we like the last day, sort out who’s number one stuff more. We like those who stand up and look down upon those who don’t. ‘Can’t get a kick when it counts.’ We like the spotlight being trained on players and teams and seeing who’s the deer and who’s the performer.

Finals are different; but it’s still footy.

The same rules apply. Denis Pagan used to talk about the basics. Even to  The King. ‘Do the basics right.’ Over and over. So did Barassi and Kennedy to Blight and Knights. And they’d talk about mental toughness. That’s what wins games they said and they were right.

Today, West Coast Eagles played finals footy.

They won the ball; offered targets and hit them; played in front at both ends of the ground; wanted the ball to come to them.

Their bodies were hard; and hardened. They ran hard, almost burning a brown path up the Mainwairing Wing.

That is basic stuff.

The Eagles played four quarters. Not in patches. They could’ve taken the foot off the pedal in the last term and thought of next week. They went in for the kill. Nik Nat kept flying for marks. Woosher had to drag him for his own good.

It was hard, gut running footy. Footy that wins matches.

North were humiliated.

We played scared. We were brittle. We melted when the game was hot. Once the goals started at the other end, we folded. Except for Swallow and Jack.

We turned it over. Often when not under pressure. We hit the post four times in the first half.

When Hansen had a set shot in the opening term his face said everything. Of course he missed.

Thomas was behind his man all day. He wanted the cheap kick over the top.

Atley, Bastinac, MacMillan froze. They’ll learn.

The second quarter should have been man on man, damage control. It didn’t happen. At any stage during the game. Were the players even told to? The lessons from the 2 point loss in Hobart weren’t learnt. Goldy was thrown in against Nik Nat and Cox on his own. Drew gave him a chop-out at times, but why take your best forward out of an already struggling forward line? A second ruckman, Pedersen, someone, should’ve played. Coach’s error.

Our decision making was terrible. Minds became scattered and numb. And not just the youngsters. McMahon kicked to one on two at CHB. Someone kicked to Campbell, smallest player on the ground, one on two on the wing.

Only Firrito went to remonstrate with Lynch when he smashed into McMahon from behind with his knee.

We have lost 5 of our last 6 finals by an average of 82 points. We don’t play finals footy.

The Eagles did today. Sydney do every week: consistent, reliable, even. Not pretty, but bloody effective. I hope they win the flag.

We need to harden up and become more ruthless. A ruthless streak would’ve seen North beat GWS or Melbourne or GCFC by a few more goals and play Geelong on Saturday night.

Brad Scott needs to rethink his approach and make some tough decisions about a few players.

Reality hurts.

(A season review will come when I’m a bit calmer and more coherent.)

Comments

  1. Don’t give up on your kids Andrew. They needed this to harden them up.
    Playing half fit players is a no-no in finals. Wells is one of my favourite players, but he and Grima were going half pace most of the game.
    I had few doubts we would win (which becomes a worry in itself – JTH probably felt the same pre Saturday night), but not in that matter. Scott Thompson is a good player, but seriously undersized to play on monsters.
    There was a passage in the first quarter in front of us where Robbie Tarrant was 10 metres clear to run it out of defence. Overran it and we goaled from his multiple fumbles. Serious stage fright, but I remember reading one of Michael Jordan’s books about what his High School coach told him:
    “Good judgement requires experience. Experience requires bad judgement.”

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    I never give up on them, Peter, I’m just venting. I’m there, week in, week out. A decade of finals thumpings will do that to you. Yes, the Tarrant stuff up was probably the most glaring of the match. I wasn’t so concerned about Grima and Wells. It was an elimination final and we had to roll the dice on them. Wells was good early before fading and Grima, well, the defence had a tough day. Scott Thompson is my favourite North player these days. He has that hardness and consistency we need. I’m biased I know but he should be in the AA squad. He’s had a brilliant year. This loss must instigate some change at the club. The question must be asked about every player: ‘Can he take us to a flag?’ Thomas, Hansen, Campbell are just three who must be shaky. We need to be more ruthless on and off field. Could Hansen be put up for a high draft pick? We can’t be satisfied with yesterday, or making finals. Everyone at North should hrt about this until redemtion next September. We could be sitting here in a few years saying this loss turned the club around. Let’s hope so.

  3. Have to say Andrew, it was a dissapointing effort. You guys were absolutely flying three weeks ago. Just goes to show how tenuous form is. Still, you saw some great signs out there this year. That’s got to be some sort of consolation.

  4. Come over and watch the Wynyard Cats in the GF this weekend Andrew.

  5. Andrew Starkie says:

    T Bone, there were some positives this year – the emergence of a number of young players an example. The loss of the Port player puts things in perspective. Tragic.

  6. N eil Anderson says:

    This report reminds me so much of how I felt when the Lions thrashed the Bulldogs in the last game. I wanted to vent and did so writing ‘Look What They’ve Done To My Club Ma! I know how you feel getting to the finals and then being overwhelmed in the land of the giants. Even getting to prelims, our small to medium fleet of players who did the job during the home and away matches, just got swamped by the big guys come finals time. At least you had a Drew Petrie and a Goldstein in your starting lineup. They’re the sort of guys that monstered the Bulldogs, especially Petrie. I always remember the way the Lions rolled out Clark Keating at finals time after a rest and he just went whoosh!!!
    Game over for the small and frail. It’s probably too early for you to see it, but a slight bit of tweaking with your list and you can look forward to next year. As I said in my article after our last match, the Bulldogs have given us nothing, not even vague hope.

  7. Very very disappointing. Worst fears were realised.
    Actually a piss-poor effort.

    In truth, our season ended in the final quarter of the Fremantle match.
    They hit the wall.

    Won’t name names here, but one or two of those boys will be lucky to be wearing the blue and white stripes next season.

  8. Don’t worry Andrew, North’s Princess knows her timing!
    North are starting to come good, by the time shes walking and talking who knows how much better they’ll get :)

  9. Andrew Starkie says:

    I hope so dani, she may never forgive me.

  10. Paul Spinks says:

    You won’t see this as an excuse, Andrew, but distractions during the week didn’t help …Scott having to defending his actions to defend a player …and I think there was something else involving Drew Petrie?
    North did to the Cats earlier in the year what Freo did on Saturday night …very similar games. So they proved they’re capable …just got to get the timing right.
    Good vent, though.

  11. Peter Schumacher says:

    I thought that this was a really good review of the match and the culture and attitudes to succeed when it really counts, particularly good point about the last quarter, the Eagles just kept driving on.

  12. Andrew Starkie says:

    Spinksy, Drew? Injury?

    I love the way our coach defends his players. Shows his heart is in it. Was a bit concerned to see the amount of media he, Drew, Swallow and Firrito did leading up to and during the game. I know, we need the attention, but Swallow a minute before the first bounce and Spud at half-time. Just not a good look. A bit unprofessional?

    Thanks Peter, thought it was ajust an incoherent babble.

  13. Just on that Q.Lynch knee into McMahon’s back, I can’t believe he only got one week for that (and with a bad record too). That was one of the crudest things I’ve seen on a footy field. He was airborne, charging into a contest for which he had no chance of competing in, with his knee raised. McMahon could have lost a kidney.

  14. Andrew Starkie says:

    DB, agreed. Gutless effort. Weak.

    Tribunal is a mess. Steve J gets a week for a bump (cats should’ve challenged) and Lynch only gets one for his cowardly act. It’s a mess.

    How’d Boomer go? Thumping Kerr is worth it.

  15. I’m still a bit lost for words after this one Andrew. Mostly spot-on, though even on the day my thoughts weren’t quite so scathing as some people’s. I suspect I’ll have more to say when you bring out your season review.

    Go Roos! (in 2013)

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