Round 8 – West Coast v North Melbourne: Friday Night Lights

Friday night football. So foreign for North Melbourne supporters after they originally pioneered the concept of football under the bright lights of the MCG at the conclusion of the working week. However, it is back in vogue for blue and white supporters in 2013 (albeit in Perth) against the West Coast Eagles. The return match of ‘that’ final last season. That final that shall not be spoke of again, and stored deep away by all players that participated in that shellacking and used as extra motivation, extra grunt, extra will. I wasn’t expecting much out of the Roos after their shaky start to the season which yielded just three wins from the first seven games, an identical record to their opponent.

The game is known as the ‘Nic Nat v Majak’ show, after the latter’s extraordinary six goal haul against the Western Bulldogs a week earlier, and, well, Nic Nat’s pure athleticism, aura and skill. It is clear that he’s huge in Western Australia. Every time he gets near the ball, the crowd cheer a little louder; when he’s approaching a big pack of players, they hold their collective breath in anticipation. The game started and it wasn’t long before North had their first goal on the board through Brent Harvey. Already, after two minutes, they had done what they couldn’t do in last year’s Elimination Final in over a quarter and a half of footy. Worryingly, the Eagles replied straight away two-fold, with goals to Chris Masten and Jack Darling.

Despite such a disappointing start to the year for North fans, one major positive is the emergence of Aaron Black up forward. The number 35, drafted alongside Ben Cunnington and Ryan Bastinac, has added considerable bulk to his Darling-like frame, and has grasped his opportunity since being handed it in Round 5 against Hawthorn, kicking multiple goals in each game since then. He got started early in this game, marking impressively and then slotting the important goal from 50m out on the flank.

Josh Kennedy got the stutter steps working early, kicking a goal to regain the lead for West Coast, but a late flurry from North sees Sam Wright snap one through from the pocket, Daniel Wells nail a set-shot and Scott Thompson getting amongst it with a huge bomb from outside 50. We lead by 12 points and I’m extremely surprised. It is clear we’ve come to play. Could we sustain it? Drew Petrie finishes a perfect quarter with a goal to give us the lead by three goals at quarter time.

As expected, West Coast come hard in the second quarter, but don’t make it count on the scoreboard. They kick an incredibly inaccurate 1.7 for the quarter, while the Roos weather the storm, and add a vital major from Ben Cunnington. 13 points to the good at half time.

The Eagles come back in the second half again with all the attacking, but inaccuracy haunts them, with Masten kicking a second goal followed by misses to Andrew Gaff and Kennedy. Daw entered the fray, taking a mark after some magnificent play by Lindsay Thomas, and he regained the handy buffer for the Roos. West Coast continue to fight, and eventually grab the lead, much to my disappointment, thanks to Luke Shuey, then a precise shot at goal from Josh Hill, who loves playing North, took the margin out to eight points. I could fill the game slipping away as the home crowd started to cheer wildly.

Enter Black. The youngster, with just eight games to his name, stamped his authority on the match, displaying a level of arrogance towards the opposition not seen since the likes of, dare I say it, Carey. He bullocked through a pack, and used his strong frame and incredible balance for a big guy to slot through a much-needed goal for his team. A minute later, he marked on the lead from a Jack Ziebell kick, went back and coolly put North Melbourne back in front by four points at the last change.

I didn’t know how much longer these boys could maintain the fight to the more favoured, more supported and the more cunning Eagles, who were using their highly controversial ‘ducking’ tactics to earn free kicks, and the approval of the pro-Eagles crowd. Ziebell, the heart and soul of this club, tried effortlessly to put a stop to it, barraging through a pack to kick the first goal of the last quarter, but an immediate reply from Hill set things straight again.

It is no coincidence that the past three times Cunnington has played on Patersons Stadium, he’s been one of, if not the best player for North Melbourne. On this night, he was almost best on ground. The vast expanses of the oval are perfect for Ben10, who finds space other players wouldn’t dream of. Cunnington isn’t flashy, he isn’t as noticeable as the likes of Jobe Watson, David Mundy or Scott Selwood, but what he does well, he does better than anyone in the competition. If Black has an aura of Carey about him, Cunnington has a little bit of Greg Williams in him. He handballs to the advantage of his teammates, he tackles hard, he wins clearances, and his kick, while not overly penetrating, is sure and effective. A real toiler. His last quarter effort to release his captain Andrew Swallow into an open goal has to be seen to be appreciated. That’s another positive for North supporters in 2013. In the big games, lesser-names are standing up. Black v Hawthorn and West Coast, Cunnington v West Coast, Mullett v Geelong, Hansen v West Coast. Oh boy, did Hansen ever stand up. 20 possessions and an amazing 15 marks, most of them running back into a deep hole knowing one of Kennedy, Darling, Cox or Naitanui would be aiming to fill it. Defence is his position, and one of Scott McMahon or Michael Firrito will be forced out for him to keep his spot, especially against the likes of Adelaide and St Kilda, our next two opponents.

After the Swallow goal, Petrie and Harvey put into action what they have probably rehearsed at training a thousand times a year. Only Petrie, Harvey and the clever Wright knew what was happening at that exact moment, and they fooled everyone. Boomer booted his second, and the margin was out to 15 points halfway through the final quarter. Safe? Definitely not. Hill looked like a world-beater as he ran, bounced and dummied into a goal from 30m out, then a free kick to Shuey (who else?) saw a goal and the margin reduced to three points, with as many minutes left on the clock. I am breathless. I am chewing fingernails, I’m tapping the side of my chair, hell, I’m clutching the edge of my chair. I feel like a crucial mistake is about to be made, and it happens. Adam Selwood is caught high, and all of a sudden, he’s Dean Cox in the 2005 Grand Final. He sends it forward, and Naitanui becomes Leo Barry, but better. I’m stunned. Not at the umpiring decision, or the fact that we were about to lose, but at the fact Naitanui flew from behind a huge pack of players and take a massive mark. It would’ve been one of the best football memories of my life had North Melbourne not been involved. Alas, the siren sounds, Naitanui, as cool as ever, slots it. Scenes of Justin Longmuir provoking the crowd ensues, and I can’t help but feel that Naitanui just became the hottest property in the AFL. Gutted, I turn to bed, with the image of Naitanui roving the boundary line to the cheers and amazement of the crowd stuck in my head, knowing that I’ll be seeing that particular scene for the rest of my life.

The next day, I played local footy. We won with a goal after the siren.

West Coast 3.2 – 4.9 – 8.14 – 12.18.90

North Melbourne 6.1 – 7.4 – 10.6 – 13.10.88

Goalkickers:

West Coast – Hill 3, Shuey 2, Kennedy 2, Cox, Darling, Naitanui, LeCras, Masten

North Melbourne – Black 3, Harvey 2, Swallow, Ziebell, Cunnington, Wells, Petrie, Wright, Thompson, Daw

Best:

West Coast – Glass, Naitanui, Shuey, Hill, Kerr, Priddis, Masten

North Melbourne – Cunnington, Black, Hansen, Harvey, Wells, Ziebell, Goldstein

Crowd: 38,146 at Patersons Stadium

Votes: 3: Ben Cunnington (NM) 2: Darren Glass (WCE) 1: Aaron Black (NM)

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.

Comments

  1. Peter_B says:

    Very balanced and insightful report Josh.
    I know there is little consolation in an honourable loss, but I said throught the game that it was the first time I had enjoyed an Eagles game all season. Our previous games had all been either woeful performances early in the year, or scrappy efforts against poor opposition.
    Friday night was played at pace with good skills and pressure from both sides. Teams that belonged in the 5-8 slot, and could push the top sides on a good night. Last year I thought North were soft and did not stand up to pressure. It was notable that you ran stronger and longer on Friday night. My guess is that you are 2 big men short of a top side. Goldstein was great, but he did it solo after Daw was subbed off. I thought that was a mistake. After a woeful nervous first half, he had just had a confidence building mark and goal. Petrie (who has never done well against the Eagles) looked better playing further from goal and using his athleticism with Daw at FF.
    I would have been gutted to lose, as we had the better of the game after quarter time. But your guys kept running and competing. I think their bodies are maturing into the capacity to play Scott’s high tempo game style.
    If we had lost I would have had the small consolation that it was easily our best performance of the season. Hope that reduces the hurt a little. Regards.

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    It still hurts Josh

  3. Andrew Starkie says:

    Josh, agreed. Loving BC’s season and the emergence of Black. he appears to have it all and kicks important goals. Hansen may be the answer to our big body problem in defence and McMahon may have to go, he;s had two shockers.

  4. Excellent report Josh. Love the last line.

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