Round 1 – North Melbourne v West Coast: Josh Kennedy’s In Melbourne Tonight
Fortuitously, the Avenging Eagle is presenting at a medical conference in Melbourne this week. One of four patients chosen to talk to an international audience of 300 doctors and researchers about her 40 year experience of living with a chronic illness. I’m her handbag for the week.
Good of the conference organisers to schedule it when the Eagles have a Round One away game against the Kangaroos at Docklands. Pity about it being the Grand Pricks weekend. The hotel bill this weekend would have paid off the mortgage in mining recession hit Perth.
Tumbleweeds are blowing down the aisles on Level 2 at Etihad where we’ve paid $78 a head when there are more spare seats than a Meatloaf concert. Either Kangaroos fans love motor racing or they are voting with their feet to join Boomer, Drew, Nick and Wellsy in other pastimes and places. Less than 22,000 patrons on a perfect Sunday afternoon – the Eagles drew more for a JLT Cup game in Geraldton.
Eventually a generously tatted young bloke in a North jumper with a tray of 4 beers sits next to us. We wait for his mates. None arrive. He’s obviously not optimistic.
I’m confident that we should be able to account for a rebuilding North, but so were Swans supporters last night. North start well with the first 2 goals, but we settle and kick the next 3 with our defensive pressure in the forward line keeping the ball locked in for long periods.
Then disaster – Drew Petrie breaks his hand, and Nathan Vardy staggers off groggy after being sandwiched in a marking contest. Without NicNat and Lycett our ruck ranks are thinner than my hairline. Darling rucks up forward and McGovern down back and the Eagles structures understandably fall apart with North having all the possession in the last 10 minutes of the quarter.
Ben Brown is leading and marking strongly, but his team mates squander a series of easy chances. Eventually Turner and new skipper Ziebell goal so North lead by 9 at the change, but it could easily be 30.
Adam Simpson’s quarter time coaching huddle looks like the South Australian Energy Minister trying to reconnect power to the Royal Adelaide Hospital’s ER. Sam Mitchell takes matters into his own hands at the “balls ups”, which have now replaced centre bounces. The skill and tactics of ruckwork has been emaciated because maggots didn’t like being humiliated with recalled bounces. To me, it’s a much greater loss to the game than getting rid of the ugly 3rd man up at ruck contests. The game is having its “Australian” uniqueness reduced in the name of bland homogeneity and “fairness”. The lunatics are running the asylum at the GAFL.
Playing coach Mitchell points where he wants Priddis and Shuey to stand – and we’re away – sharking Goldstein’s taps. Mark LeCras has always loved Docklands – he kicked 12 against the Bombers here in 2010. He puts on a clinic of running to space; good hands and sharpshooting with 3 goals in the first 15 minutes of the quarter. We get out to a handy lead but North are running hard off half back and punishing our turnovers with goals over the back to Brown, Waite and Turner.
My Eagles look in control for much of the quarter but only lead by a goal at the half.
Trey Tatts heads off to refill the 4 pack. He’s not confident either.
I make 3 notes in the Record at half time based on what I’ve seen of Round 1 on TV and the first half of this game:
- Attack is the New Black
- Turn it over – and it’s all over
- Out the back – defence is slack
LeCras, Kennedy and Cripps goal in the first 5 minutes of the 3rd quarter, which is a healthier nerve settler for me than Trey’s medicine. Lindsay Thomas ducks his head for a dubious free and promptly shanks the kick from 20 metres out directly in front. He looks like Ernie Els six putting on the first green at Augusta. There is no follow through on any of his kicks as he chips at the ball with his body twisting right. He needs a shrink more than a kicking coach.
Jarrod Waite misses a set shot conversion to keep North in it, then drops an uncontested mark from a kick-in on the 50 metre boundary in front of us. Thinking the ball is bouncing out off his hands – he drops his head and punches the air. The ball has other ideas as it bobbles on the boundary line and Shannon Hurn retrieves for a bullet pass to a teammate for another Eagles goal.
If body was a recognised language, Waite and Thomas would be functionally illiterate.
Trey heads off for a refill.
Elliot Yeo is having his best game since 2015 and his marking is a feature, with 2 goals for the quarter. When his confidence is up he reminds me a lot of Andrew Embley as a tall mid who also does a lot of good work back – marking and tackling fiercely in defence to shore up the gaps that McGovern’s attacking rebound often leaves.
The Eagles are putting on an exhibition for most of the quarter with our kicking notably improved and more lowering of the eyes to hit targets and keep possession. Hawks redux seems to be the Simpson/Mitchell game plan. By late in the quarter the Eagles relentless pressure reduces the hard-working Kangaroos midfield and defence to the same fumbling mess as their wasteful forwards.
A Hrovat goal on the siren reduces our lead to 28 points at orange time. Nathan Vardy matches Goldstein around the ground, but it is no contest at the taps. Still Vardy keeps contesting and the long term signs are good.
North dominate play early in the last quarter with Sam Gibson missing uncontested on the run from 30 and Jarrod missing two – including a hurried snap at the top of the square – fearing a tackler when 5 metres clear. Should extra points be awarded for originality?
Drew Petrie has been doing Corey Bernardi crazy right winger impressions all afternoon, pushing his body into contests where he is no longer able to handle the ball on his left side. His long bomb goal from a free kick on the 50 has team mates rushing to congratulate the warrior, and North fans lamenting graciously.
Trey heads off for an AA meeting.
The Eagles do party time with a similar Darling bomb and then the immaculate Josh Kennedy (7.0 – I told you midweek that he was a shoo-in for the Coleman) kicking a banana from the boundary in the left pocket. His work rate, speed, safe hands and versatility – in the air and on the ground – make him the complete modern big forward – Buddy with brains.
All the intensity goes out of the game in the last 15 minutes and we stroll home by 43 points. We look good but the margin probably flatters us on the balance of play. That Ziebell and Swallow were their best players is a worry with the fringe players not stepping up in the absence of the old stars. But their defence is solid if under-sized. Their endeavour and run out of defence looked good. Goldstein dominated the taps and kicked 3 goals. Braydon Preuss debuted as a backup ruckmen and forward, but another lumbering big man is not what North need.
Ben Brown looks the part as the leading marking forward, but the rest of the forward line seemed to comprise Randle P McMurphy and Chief Bromden out of the Cuckoo’s Nest. Beyond the poor kicking, there seemed to be no system up forward with too many big men getting in each other’s way. They work together like President Trump and the Republican Congress.
By contrast the Eagles looked to have spent a lot of time on their forward system with Kennedy staying closer to goal and Darling up the ground providing a lot of contested ball and tackling pressure. LeCras (thankfully no longer a midfielder) and Cripps led into space away from the big men to provide the mids with a range of options going forward. Hawks redux (I hope).
Beyond our scant ruck stocks the only negatives were another listless Lewis Jetta performance. Dom Sheed next week – please. Young defender Jackson Nelson looked nervous all game and Tom Barrass and Will Schofield will be pressing for spots, but Simpson tends to stick with project players – as he did with Brad Sheppard – to give them time to find their feet at AFL level.
The jubilant Avenging Eagle and I wandered down to the Eagles post-match function located in a shoebox next to North’s Victory Room. We were shoulder to shoulder with queues for drinks from rapidly emptied fridges.
North look a basket case off the field, and will surely have their cap out to the AFL again based on the poor crowd today. How long can the fiction of 10 viable Melbourne teams be maintained for sentimental reasons? It must have cost North money to have more Etihad staff than supporters at the game. You could have fired a shotgun in North’s Victory Room after the game and hit as many targets as Jarrod Waite.
Still the Avenging Eagle got her photo taken with prodigal son Elliot Yeo after the game.
Etihad today. Tomorrow the world…
NORTH MELBOURNE 4.6 8.8 11.10 13.15 (93)
WEST COAST 3.3 9.8 16.8 21.10 (136)
North Melbourne: Goldstein 3, Brown 2, Turner 2, Atley, Ziebell, Waite, Preuss, Hrovat, Tarrant
West Coast: Kennedy 7, LeCras 4, Cripps 3, Yeo 2, Darling 2, Jetta, Hill, Petrie
North Melbourne: Ziebell, Swallow, Dumont, Goldstein
West Coast: Kennedy, Yeo, Mitchell, Gaff, LeCras, Hurn, McGovern
Umpires: Margetts, Nicholls, Mitchell
Attendance: 21,997 at Etihad Stadium
Makarkey Votes: 3 – Josh Kennedy (WC); 2 – Elliot Yeo – (AE insisted – WC); 1 – Sam Mitchell (WC – Lord be praised)